The Black Swan of Paris by Karen Robards – Feature + Excerpt

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: June 30, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII

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For fans of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a thrilling standalone by New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards about a celebrated singer in WWII occupied France who joins the Resistance to save her estranged family from being killed in a German prison.

In Occupied France, the Resistance trembles on the brink of destruction. Its operatives, its secrets, its plans, all will be revealed. One of its leaders, wealthy aristocrat Baron Paul de Rocheford, has been killed in a raid and the surviving members of his cell, including his wife the elegant Baronness Lillian de Rocheford, have been arrested and transported to Germany for interrogation and, inevitably, execution.

Captain Max Ryan, British SOE, is given the job of penetrating the impregnable German prison where the Baroness and the remnants of the cell are being held and tortured. If they can’t be rescued he must kill them before they can give up their secrets.

Max is in Paris, currently living under a cover identity as a show business impresario whose star attraction is Genevieve Dumont. Young, beautiful Genevieve is the toast of Europe, an icon of the glittering entertainment world that the Nazis celebrate so that the arts can be seen to be thriving in the occupied territories under their rule.

What no one knows about Genevieve is that she is Lillian and Paul de Rocheford’s younger daughter. Her feelings toward her family are bitter since they were estranged twelve years ago. But when she finds out from Max just what his new assignment entails, old, long-buried feelings are rekindled and she knows that no matter what she can’t allow her mother to be killed, not by the Nazis and not by Max. She secretly establishes contact with those in the Resistance who can help her. Through them she is able to contact her sister Emmy, and the sisters put aside their estrangement to work together to rescue their mother.

It all hinges on a command performance that Genevieve is to give for a Gestapo General in the Bavarian town where her mother and the others are imprisoned. While Genevieve sings and the show goes on, a daring rescue is underway that involves terrible danger, heartbreaking choices, and the realization that some ties, like the love between a mother and her daughters and between sisters, are forever.

THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌

CHAPTER‌ ‌ONE‌ 

‌May‌ ‌15,‌ ‌1944‌ 

When‌ ‌the‌ ‌worst‌ ‌thing‌ ‌that‌ ‌could‌ ‌ever‌ ‌happen‌ ‌to‌ ‌you‌ ‌had‌ ‌already‌ ‌happened,‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌that‌ ‌came‌ ‌after‌ ‌really‌ ‌mattered.‌ ‌The‌ ‌resultant‌ ‌state‌ ‌of‌ ‌apathy‌ ‌was‌ ‌‌almost‌ ‌‌pleasant,‌ ‌as‌ ‌long‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌allow‌ ‌herself‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌it—any‌ ‌of‌ ‌it—too‌ ‌much.‌ ‌She‌ ‌‌was‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont,‌ ‌a‌ ‌singer,‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌star‌.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌latest‌ ‌sold-out‌ ‌performance‌ ‌at‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌Paris’s‌ ‌great‌ ‌theaters‌ ‌had‌ ‌ended‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌five-minute‌ ‌standing‌ ‌ovation‌ ‌less‌ ‌than‌ ‌an‌ ‌hour‌ ‌before.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌acclaimed,‌ ‌admired,‌ ‌celebrated‌ ‌wherever‌ ‌she‌ ‌went.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Nazis‌ ‌loved‌ ‌her.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌not‌ ‌quite‌ ‌twenty-five‌ ‌years‌ ‌old.‌ ‌Beautiful‌ ‌when,‌ ‌like‌ ‌now,‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌dolled‌ ‌up‌ ‌in‌ ‌all‌ ‌her‌ ‌after-show‌ ‌finery.‌ ‌Not‌ ‌in‌ ‌want,‌ ‌not‌ ‌unhappy.‌ ‌In‌ ‌this‌ ‌time‌ ‌of‌ ‌fear‌ ‌and‌ ‌mass‌ ‌starvation,‌ ‌of‌ ‌worldwide‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌scale‌ ‌never‌ ‌seen‌ ‌before‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌whole‌ ‌course‌ ‌of‌ ‌human‌ ‌history,‌ ‌that‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌lucky.‌ ‌She‌ ‌knew‌ ‌it.‌ ‌ ‌Whom‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌before,‌ ‌what‌ ‌had‌ ‌almost‌ ‌destroyed‌ ‌her—that‌ ‌life‌ ‌belonged‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Most‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌time,‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌even‌ ‌remember‌ ‌it‌ ‌herself.‌ ‌She‌ ‌refused‌ ‌to‌ ‌remember‌ ‌it.‌ ‌A‌ ‌siren‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌to‌ ‌life‌ ‌just‌ ‌meters‌ ‌behind‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌traveling‌ ‌in.‌ ‌Startled,‌ ‌she‌ ‌sat‌ ‌upright‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat,‌ ‌heart‌ ‌lurching‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌looked‌ ‌around.‌ ‌Do‌ ‌they‌ ‌know?‌ ‌Are‌ ‌they‌ ‌after‌ ‌us?‌ ‌A‌ ‌small‌ ‌knot‌ ‌of‌ ‌fans‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌outside‌ ‌the‌ ‌stage‌ ‌door‌ ‌as‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌left.‌ ‌One‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌had‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌a‌ ‌program‌ ‌at‌ ‌her,‌ ‌requesting‌ ‌an‌ ‌autograph‌ ‌for‌ ‌Francoise.‌ ‌She’d‌ ‌signed—‌May‌ ‌your‌ ‌heart‌ ‌always‌ ‌sing,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont‌—as‌ ‌previously‌ ‌instructed.‌ ‌What‌ ‌it‌ ‌meant‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know.‌ ‌What‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌know‌ ‌was‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌meant‌ ‌‌something‌:‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌prearranged‌ ‌encounter,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌coded‌ ‌message‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌scribbled‌ ‌down‌ ‌was‌ ‌intended‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Resistance.‌ ‌And‌ ‌now,‌ ‌mere‌ ‌minutes‌ ‌later,‌ ‌here‌ ‌were‌ ‌the‌ ‌Milice,‌ ‌the‌ ‌despised‌ ‌French‌ ‌police‌ ‌who‌ ‌had‌ ‌long‌ ‌since‌ ‌thrown‌ ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌lot‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nazis,‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌tail.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌as‌ ‌icy‌ ‌jets‌ ‌of‌ ‌fear‌ ‌spurted‌ ‌through‌ ‌her,‌ ‌a‌ ‌pair‌ ‌of‌ ‌police‌ ‌cars‌ ‌followed‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌military‌ ‌truck‌ ‌flew‌ ‌by.‌ ‌Running‌ ‌without‌ ‌lights,‌ ‌they‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌as‌ ‌no‌ ‌more‌ ‌than‌ ‌hulking‌ ‌black‌ ‌shapes‌ ‌whose‌ ‌passage‌ ‌rattled‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌that‌ ‌up‌ ‌until‌ ‌then‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌alone‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌road.‌ ‌A‌ ‌split‌ ‌second‌ ‌later,‌ ‌her‌ ‌driver—his‌ ‌name‌ ‌was‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌Cordier;‌ ‌he‌ ‌worked‌ ‌for‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌her‌ ‌manager—slammed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌brakes.‌ ‌The‌ ‌car‌ ‌jerked‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌stop.‌ ‌“Sacre‌ ‌bleu!”‌ ‌‌Flying‌ ‌forward,‌ ‌she‌ ‌barely‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌herself‌ ‌from‌ ‌smacking‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌seat‌ ‌by‌ ‌throwing‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌her.‌ ‌“What’s‌ ‌happening?”‌ ‌“A‌ ‌raid,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think.”‌ ‌Peering‌ ‌out‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌windshield,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌clutched‌ ‌the‌ ‌steering‌ ‌wheel‌ ‌with‌ ‌both‌ ‌hands.‌ ‌He‌ ‌was‌ ‌an‌ ‌old‌ ‌man,‌ ‌short‌ ‌and‌ ‌wiry‌ ‌with‌ ‌white‌ ‌hair.‌ ‌She‌ ‌could‌ ‌read‌ ‌tension‌ ‌in‌ ‌every‌ ‌line‌ ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌body.‌ ‌In‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌washed‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌pale‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌that‌ ‌painted‌ ‌the‌ ‌scene‌ ‌in‌ ‌ghostly‌ ‌shades‌ ‌of‌ ‌gray,‌ ‌the‌ ‌cavalcade‌ ‌that‌ ‌had‌ ‌passed‌ ‌them‌ ‌was‌ ‌now‌ ‌blocking‌ ‌the‌ ‌road.‌ ‌A‌ ‌screech‌ ‌of‌ ‌brakes‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌throwing‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌shadow‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌nearest‌ ‌building‌ ‌had‌ ‌her‌ ‌casting‌ ‌a‌ ‌quick‌ ‌look‌ ‌over‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌Another‌ ‌military‌ ‌truck‌ ‌shuddered‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌halt,‌ ‌filling‌ ‌the‌ ‌road‌ ‌behind‌ ‌them,‌ ‌stopping‌ ‌it‌ ‌up‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌cork‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌bottle.‌ ‌Men—German‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌officers‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Milice—spilled‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌vehicles.‌ ‌The‌ ‌ones‌ ‌behind‌ ‌swarmed‌ ‌past‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën,‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌rushed‌ ‌toward‌ ‌what‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌tentatively‌ ‌identified‌ ‌as‌ ‌an‌ ‌apartment‌ ‌building.‌ ‌Six‌ ‌stories‌ ‌tall,‌ ‌it‌ ‌squatted,‌ ‌dark‌ ‌and‌ ‌silent,‌ ‌in‌ ‌its‌ ‌own‌ ‌walled‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌“Oh,‌ ‌no,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌fear‌ ‌for‌ ‌herself‌ ‌and‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌subsided,‌ ‌but‌ ‌sympathy‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌targets‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest‌ ‌feel‌ ‌tight.‌ ‌People‌ ‌who‌ ‌were‌ ‌taken‌ ‌away‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nazis‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌middle‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌seldom‌ ‌came‌ ‌back.‌ ‌The‌ ‌officers‌ ‌banged‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“Open‌ ‌up!‌ ‌Police!”‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌after‌ ‌10:00‌ ‌p.m.‌ ‌Until‌ ‌the‌ ‌siren‌ ‌had‌ ‌ripped‌ ‌it‌ ‌apart,‌ ‌the‌ ‌silence‌ ‌blanketing‌ ‌the‌ ‌city‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌close‌ ‌to‌ ‌absolute.‌ ‌Thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌strictly‌ ‌enforced‌ ‌blackout,‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌were‌ ‌as‌ ‌dark‌ ‌and‌ ‌mysterious‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌nearby‌ ‌Seine.‌ ‌It‌ ‌had‌ ‌rained‌ ‌earlier‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌day,‌ ‌and‌ ‌before‌ ‌the‌ ‌siren‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌the‌ ‌noisiest‌ ‌thing‌ ‌around,‌ ‌splashing‌ ‌through‌ ‌puddles‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌headed‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Ritz,‌ ‌where‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌staying‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌duration‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌run.‌ ‌“If‌ ‌they‌ ‌keep‌ ‌arresting‌ ‌people,‌ ‌soon‌ ‌there‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌left.”‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌gaze‌ ‌locked‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌contingent‌ ‌of‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌spreading‌ ‌out‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌apparently‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌another‌ ‌way‌ ‌in—or‌ ‌for‌ ‌exits‌ ‌they‌ ‌could‌ ‌block.‌ ‌One‌ ‌rattled‌ ‌a‌ ‌gate‌ ‌of‌ ‌tall‌ ‌iron‌ ‌spikes‌ ‌that‌ ‌led‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌brick-walled‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌It‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌open,‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌moved‌ ‌on,‌ ‌disappearing‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌follow‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌movements‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌torches‌ ‌they‌ ‌carried.‌ ‌Fitted‌ ‌with‌ ‌slotted‌ ‌covers‌ ‌intended‌ ‌to‌ ‌direct‌ ‌their‌ ‌light‌ ‌downward‌ ‌so‌ ‌as‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌them‌ ‌invisible‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allied‌ ‌air-raid‌ ‌pilots‌ ‌whose‌ ‌increasingly‌ ‌frequent‌ ‌forays‌ ‌over‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌aroused‌ ‌both‌ ‌joy‌ ‌and‌ ‌dread‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌city’s‌ ‌war-weary‌ ‌citizens,‌ ‌the‌ ‌torches’‌ ‌bobbing‌ ‌looked‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌erratic‌ ‌flitting‌ ‌of‌ ‌fireflies‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌dark.‌ ‌“They’re‌ ‌afraid,‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌makes‌ ‌them‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌more‌ ‌dangerous.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌down‌ ‌his‌ ‌window‌ ‌a‌ ‌crack,‌ ‌the‌ ‌better‌ ‌to‌ ‌hear‌ ‌what‌ ‌was‌ ‌happening‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌followed‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌movements.‌ ‌The‌ ‌earthy‌ ‌scent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌rain‌ ‌mixed‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌faint‌ ‌smell‌ ‌of‌ ‌cigarette‌ ‌smoke,‌ ‌which,‌ ‌thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌Max’s‌ ‌never-ending‌ ‌Gauloises,‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌permanent‌ ‌feature‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌The‌ ‌yellow‌ ‌card‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌pass‌ ‌they‌ ‌needed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌after‌ ‌curfew,‌ ‌prominently‌ ‌displayed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌windshield,‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌her‌ ‌view‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌far‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌but‌ ‌she‌ ‌thought‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌were‌ ‌running‌ ‌that‌ ‌way,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌“They‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allies‌ ‌are‌ ‌coming.‌ ‌The‌ ‌bombings‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Luftwaffe‌ ‌installations‌ ‌right‌ ‌here‌ ‌in‌ ‌France,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allied‌ ‌victories‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌eastern‌ ‌front—they’re‌ ‌being‌ ‌backed‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner.‌ ‌They’ll‌ ‌do‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌they‌ ‌must‌ ‌to‌ ‌survive.”‌ ‌“Open‌ ‌the‌ ‌door,‌ ‌or‌ ‌we‌ ‌will‌ ‌break‌ ‌it‌ ‌down!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌policeman‌ ‌hammered‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌nightstick.‌ ‌The‌ ‌staccato‌ ‌beat‌ ‌echoed‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌night.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌shivered,‌ ‌imagining‌ ‌the‌ ‌terror‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌inside.‌ ‌Thin‌ ‌lines‌ ‌of‌ ‌light‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌around‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌thick‌ ‌curtains‌ ‌covering‌ ‌the‌ ‌windows‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌as,‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌guess,‌ ‌tenants‌ ‌dared‌ ‌to‌ ‌peek‌ ‌out.‌ ‌A‌ ‌woman,‌ ‌old‌ ‌and‌ ‌stooped—there‌ ‌was‌ ‌enough‌ ‌light‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌hall‌ ‌behind‌ ‌her‌ ‌to‌ ‌allow‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌that‌ ‌much—opened‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“Out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌way!”‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌shoved‌ ‌roughly‌ ‌back‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌stormed‌ ‌in.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌frightened‌ ‌cry‌ ‌changed‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌shrill‌ ‌scream‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌quickly‌ ‌cut‌ ‌off.‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌went‌ ‌dry.‌ ‌She‌ ‌clasped‌ ‌her‌ ‌suddenly‌ ‌cold‌ ‌hands‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌lap.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌There’s‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌mantra‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌life.‌ ‌“Can‌ ‌we‌ ‌drive‌ ‌on?”‌ ‌She‌ ‌had‌ ‌learned‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌school‌ ‌that‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌no‌ ‌point‌ ‌in‌ ‌agonizing‌ ‌over‌ ‌what‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌cured.‌ ‌To‌ ‌stay‌ ‌and‌ ‌watch‌ ‌what‌ ‌she‌ ‌knew‌ ‌was‌ ‌coming—the‌ ‌arrest‌ ‌of‌ ‌partisans,‌ ‌who‌ ‌would‌ ‌face‌ ‌immediate‌ ‌execution‌ ‌upon‌ ‌arrival‌ ‌at‌ ‌wherever‌ ‌they‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌taken,‌ ‌or,‌ ‌perhaps‌ ‌and‌ ‌arguably‌ ‌worse,‌ ‌civilians,‌ ‌in‌ ‌some‌ ‌combination‌ ‌of‌ ‌women,‌ ‌children,‌ ‌old‌ ‌people,‌ ‌clutching‌ ‌what‌ ‌few‌ ‌belongings‌ ‌they’d‌ ‌managed‌ ‌to‌ ‌grab,‌ ‌marched‌ ‌at‌ ‌gunpoint‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌and‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌trucks‌ ‌for‌ ‌deportation—would‌ ‌tear‌ ‌at‌ ‌her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌for‌ ‌days‌ ‌without‌ ‌helping‌ ‌them‌ ‌at‌ ‌all.‌ ‌“We’re‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌in.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌looked‌ ‌around‌ ‌at‌ ‌her.‌ ‌She‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌saw‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌face,‌ ‌but‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌made‌ ‌him‌ ‌grimace‌ ‌and‌ ‌reach‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌handle.‌ ‌“I’ll‌ ‌go‌ ‌see‌ ‌if‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌get‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌move.”‌ ‌When‌ ‌he‌ ‌exited‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌she‌ ‌let‌ ‌her‌ ‌head‌ ‌drop‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌rest‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën’s‌ ‌leather‌ ‌seat,‌ ‌stared‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌ceiling‌ ‌and‌ ‌tried‌ ‌not‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌what‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌happening‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌Taking‌ ‌deep‌ ‌breaths,‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌her‌ ‌best‌ ‌to‌ ‌block‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌muffled‌ ‌shouts‌ ‌and‌ ‌thuds‌ ‌that‌ ‌reached‌ ‌her‌ ‌ears‌ ‌and‌ ‌focused‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌physical,‌ ‌which,‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌performer,‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌experience‌ ‌doing.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌tired‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌limp‌ ‌with‌ ‌it.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌temples‌ ‌throbbed.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌legs‌ ‌ached.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌feet‌ ‌hurt.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌throat—that‌ ‌golden‌ ‌throat‌ ‌that‌ ‌had‌ ‌allowed‌ ‌her‌ ‌to‌ ‌survive—felt‌ ‌tight.‌ ‌Deliberately‌ ‌she‌ ‌relaxed‌ ‌her‌ ‌muscles‌ ‌and‌ ‌tugged‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌tucked‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌neckline‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌coat‌ ‌higher‌ ‌to‌ ‌warm‌ ‌herself.‌ ‌A‌ ‌flash‌ ‌of‌ ‌light‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness‌ ‌caught‌ ‌her‌ ‌eye.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌head‌ ‌turned‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌sought‌ ‌the‌ ‌source.‌ ‌Looking‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌iron‌ ‌bars‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌she‌ ‌discovered‌ ‌a‌ ‌side‌ ‌door‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌slowly,‌ ‌stealthily‌ ‌opening.‌ ‌“Is‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌else‌ ‌in‌ ‌there?‌ ‌Come‌ ‌out‌ ‌or‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌shoot.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌volume‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌shouts‌ ‌increased‌ ‌exponentially‌ ‌with‌ ‌this‌ ‌new‌ ‌gap‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌walls.‌ ‌That‌ ‌guttural‌ ‌threat‌ ‌rang‌ ‌out‌ ‌above‌ ‌others‌ ‌less‌ ‌distinct,‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌gathered‌ ‌from‌ ‌what‌ ‌she‌ ‌heard‌ ‌that‌ ‌they‌ ‌were‌ ‌searching‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌The‌ ‌side‌ ‌door‌ ‌opened‌ ‌wider.‌ ‌Light‌ ‌from‌ ‌inside‌ ‌spilled‌ ‌past‌ ‌a‌ ‌figure‌ ‌slipping‌ ‌out:‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl,‌ ‌tall‌ ‌and‌ ‌thin‌ ‌with‌ ‌dark‌ ‌curly‌ ‌hair,‌ ‌wearing‌ ‌what‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌an‌ ‌unbuttoned‌ ‌coat‌ ‌thrown‌ ‌on‌ ‌over‌ ‌nightclothes.‌ ‌In‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms‌ ‌she‌ ‌carried‌ ‌a‌ ‌small‌ ‌child‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌dark,‌ ‌curly‌ ‌hair.‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌went‌ ‌out.‌ ‌The‌ ‌door‌ ‌had‌ ‌closed.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌discovered‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌nose‌ ‌all‌ ‌but‌ ‌pressed‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌tried‌ ‌to‌ ‌find‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness.‌ ‌It‌ ‌took‌ ‌her‌ ‌a‌ ‌second,‌ ‌but‌ ‌then‌ ‌she‌ ‌spotted‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌fled‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌escape.‌ ‌They’ll‌ ‌shoot‌ ‌her‌ ‌if‌ ‌they‌ ‌catch‌ ‌her.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Germans‌ ‌had‌ ‌no‌ ‌mercy‌ ‌for‌ ‌those‌ ‌for‌ ‌whom‌ ‌they‌ ‌came.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌paused.‌ ‌A‌ ‌pale‌ ‌hand‌ ‌grabbed‌ ‌a‌ ‌bar.‌ ‌From‌ ‌the‌ ‌metallic‌ ‌rattle‌ ‌that‌ ‌reached‌ ‌her‌ ‌ears,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌thought‌ ‌she‌ ‌must‌ ‌be‌ ‌shoving‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌shaking‌ ‌it.‌ ‌She‌ ‌assumed‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌locked.‌ ‌In‌ ‌any‌ ‌event,‌ ‌it‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌open.‌ ‌Then‌ ‌that‌ ‌same‌ ‌hand‌ ‌reached‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars,‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌too-thin‌ ‌arm,‌ ‌stretching‌ ‌and‌ ‌straining.‌ ‌Toward‌ ‌what?‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌dark‌ ‌to‌ ‌tell.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌middle‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌narrow‌ ‌street‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌set‌ ‌back‌ ‌only‌ ‌a‌ ‌meter‌ ‌or‌ ‌so‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌facade‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌was‌ ‌close‌ ‌enough‌ ‌so‌ ‌that‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌could‌ ‌read‌ ‌the‌ ‌desperation‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌body‌ ‌language,‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌she‌ ‌kept‌ ‌looking‌ ‌back‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌closed‌ ‌door.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child,‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌who‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌around‌ ‌ten‌ ‌months‌ ‌old,‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌asleep.‌ ‌The‌ ‌small‌ ‌curly‌ ‌head‌ ‌rested‌ ‌trustingly‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌It‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌a‌ ‌conscious‌ ‌decision‌ ‌to‌ ‌leave‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌just‌ ‌did‌ ‌it,‌ ‌then‌ ‌realized‌ ‌the‌ ‌risk‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌taking‌ ‌when‌ ‌her‌ ‌pumps‌ ‌clickety-clacked‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sound‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌to‌ ‌tear‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌and‌ ‌sent‌ ‌a‌ ‌lightning‌ ‌bolt‌ ‌of‌ ‌panic‌ ‌through‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Get‌ ‌back‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌‌Her‌ ‌sense‌ ‌of‌ ‌self-preservation‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌it‌ ‌at‌ ‌her,‌ ‌but‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t.‌ ‌Shivering‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌latent‌ ‌menace‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌military‌ ‌trucks‌ ‌looming‌ ‌so‌ ‌close‌ ‌on‌ ‌either‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën,‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌car‌ ‌parked‌ ‌askew‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌street,‌ ‌the‌ ‌light‌ ‌spilling‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌still‌ ‌open‌ ‌front‌ ‌door‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌sounds‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌she‌ ‌kept‌ ‌going,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌care‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌now‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌darted‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌trapped‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌You’re‌ ‌putting‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌in‌ ‌danger.‌ ‌You’re‌ ‌putting‌ ‌Otto,‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌in‌ ‌danger.‌ ‌The‌ ‌whole‌ ‌network—‌ ‌Heart‌ ‌thudding,‌ ‌she‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌locked‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌through‌ ‌it,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌jerked‌ ‌her‌ ‌arm‌ ‌back‌ ‌inside‌ ‌and‌ ‌drew‌ ‌herself‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sweet‌ ‌scent‌ ‌of‌ ‌flowers‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌felt‌ ‌obscene‌ ‌in‌ ‌contrast‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌fear‌ ‌and‌ ‌despair‌ ‌she‌ ‌sensed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌all‌ ‌right.‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌here‌ ‌to‌ ‌help,”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌whispered.‌ ‌She‌ ‌grasped‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌pulling,‌ ‌pushing‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌spoke.‌ ‌The‌ ‌iron‌ ‌bars‌ ‌were‌ ‌solid‌ ‌and‌ ‌cold‌ ‌and‌ ‌slippery‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌moisture‌ ‌that‌ ‌still‌ ‌hung‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌air.‌ ‌The‌ ‌gate‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌budge‌ ‌for‌ ‌her,‌ ‌either.‌ ‌The‌ ‌clanking‌ ‌sound‌ ‌it‌ ‌made‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌joggled‌ ‌it‌ ‌against‌ ‌its‌ ‌moorings‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌break‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌cold‌ ‌sweat.‌ ‌Darkness‌ ‌enfolded‌ ‌her,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌leavened‌ ‌by‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌trust‌ ‌it‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌her‌ ‌safe.‌ ‌After‌ ‌all,‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌seen‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌All‌ ‌it‌ ‌would‌ ‌take‌ ‌was‌ ‌one‌ ‌sharp-eyed‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌one‌ ‌policeman‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌around‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner,‌ ‌or‌ ‌step‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌and‌ ‌look‌ ‌her‌ ‌way—and‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌be‌ ‌seen,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌Caught.‌ ‌Helping‌ ‌a‌ ‌fugitive‌ ‌escape.‌ ‌The‌ ‌consequences‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌dire.‌ ‌Imprisonment,‌ ‌deportation,‌ ‌even‌ ‌death.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌pulse‌ ‌raced.‌ ‌She‌ ‌thought‌ ‌of‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌would‌ ‌say.‌ ‌On‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌touched‌ ‌on‌ ‌wide‌ ‌dark‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌face‌ ‌so‌ ‌thin‌ ‌the‌ ‌bones‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌push‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌skin.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌about‌ ‌her‌ ‌own‌ ‌age,‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌thought‌ ‌she‌ ‌must‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌mother.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sleeping‌ ‌child—Genevieve‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌tell‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl‌ ‌or‌ ‌a‌ ‌boy—was‌ ‌wearing‌ ‌footed‌ ‌pajamas.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌turned‌ ‌over.‌ ‌“Oh,‌ ‌thank‌ ‌God.‌ ‌Thank‌ ‌you.”‌ ‌Whispering,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌reached‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars‌ ‌to‌ ‌touch‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌arm‌ ‌in‌ ‌gratitude.‌ ‌“There’s‌ ‌a‌ ‌key.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌mouth.‌ ‌It‌ ‌unlocks‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate.”‌ ‌She‌ ‌cast‌ ‌another‌ ‌of‌ ‌those‌ ‌lightning‌ ‌glances‌ ‌over‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌Shifting‌ ‌from‌ ‌foot‌ ‌to‌ ‌foot,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌hardly‌ ‌stand‌ ‌still‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌agitation.‌ ‌Fear‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌off‌ ‌her‌ ‌in‌ ‌waves.‌ ‌“Hurry.‌ ‌Please.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌looked‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌direction‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌reaching,‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌oval‌ ‌stone‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead‌ ‌set‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌brick‌ ‌near‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌carved‌ ‌lion’s‌ ‌head‌ ‌in‌ ‌its‌ ‌center‌ ‌with‌ ‌its‌ ‌open‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌from‌ ‌which,‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌presumably,‌ ‌water‌ ‌was‌ ‌meant‌ ‌to‌ ‌pour‌ ‌out.‌ ‌Reaching‌ ‌inside,‌ ‌she‌ ‌probed‌ ‌the‌ ‌cavity,‌ ‌ran‌ ‌her‌ ‌fingers‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌worn-smooth‌ ‌stone,‌ ‌then‌ ‌did‌ ‌it‌ ‌again.‌ ‌“There’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌key,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌here.”‌ ‌“It‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ ‌be.‌ ‌It‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ ‌be!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌voice‌ ‌rose,‌ ‌trembled.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌head‌ ‌moved.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌soothing‌ ‌sound,‌ ‌rocked‌ ‌back‌ ‌and‌ ‌forth,‌ ‌patted‌ ‌the‌ ‌small‌ ‌back,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌settled‌ ‌down‌ ‌again‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌sigh.‌ ‌Watching,‌ ‌a‌ ‌pit‌ ‌yawned‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌stomach.‌ ‌Glancing‌ ‌hastily‌ ‌down,‌ ‌she‌ ‌crouched‌ ‌to‌ ‌check‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground‌ ‌beneath‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead,‌ ‌in‌ ‌case‌ ‌the‌ ‌key‌ ‌might‌ ‌have‌ ‌fallen‌ ‌out.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌dark;‌ ‌she‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌see.‌ ‌She‌ ‌ran‌ ‌her‌ ‌hand‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones.‌ ‌Nothing.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌not—”‌ ‌she‌ ‌began,‌ ‌standing‌ ‌up,‌ ‌only‌ ‌to‌ ‌break‌ ‌off‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌swiftly‌ ‌indrawn‌ ‌breath‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌through‌ ‌which‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌exited‌ ‌flew‌ ‌open.‌ ‌This‌ ‌time,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌rectangle‌ ‌of‌ ‌light,‌ ‌a‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌stood.‌ ‌“My‌ ‌God.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌whisper‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌turned‌ ‌her‌ ‌head‌ ‌to‌ ‌look‌ ‌was‌ ‌scarcely‌ ‌louder‌ ‌than‌ ‌a‌ ‌breath,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌with‌ ‌terror‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌made‌ ‌the‌ ‌hair‌ ‌stand‌ ‌up‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌of‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌neck.‌ ‌“What‌ ‌do‌ ‌I‌ ‌do?”‌ ‌“Who‌ ‌is‌ ‌out‌ ‌there?”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌roared.‌ ‌Pistol‌ ‌ready‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌hand,‌ ‌he‌ ‌pointed‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌played‌ ‌over‌ ‌a‌ ‌tattered‌ ‌cluster‌ ‌of‌ ‌pink‌ ‌peonies,‌ ‌over‌ ‌overgrown‌ ‌green‌ ‌shrubs,‌ ‌over‌ ‌red‌ ‌tulips‌ ‌thrusting‌ ‌their‌ ‌heads‌ ‌through‌ ‌weeds,‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌came‌ ‌their‌ ‌way.‌ ‌“Don’t‌ ‌think‌ ‌to‌ ‌hide‌ ‌from‌ ‌me.”‌ ‌“Take‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby.‌ ‌Please.”‌ ‌Voice‌ ‌hoarse‌ ‌with‌ ‌dread,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌toward‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌a‌ ‌flutter‌ ‌of‌ ‌panic:‌ ‌if‌ ‌this‌ ‌girl‌ ‌only‌ ‌knew,‌ ‌she‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌person‌ ‌she‌ ‌would‌ ‌ever‌ ‌trust‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌child.‌ ‌But‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌else,‌ ‌and‌ ‌thus‌ ‌no‌ ‌choice‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌made.‌ ‌As‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌leg‌ ‌and‌ ‌arm‌ ‌came‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌reached‌ ‌out‌ ‌to‌ ‌help,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌part‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌all‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby’s‌ ‌weight‌ ‌as‌ ‌between‌ ‌them‌ ‌she‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌maneuvered‌ ‌the‌ ‌little‌ ‌one‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars.‌ ‌As‌ ‌their‌ ‌hands‌ ‌touched,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌cold‌ ‌clamminess‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌skin,‌ ‌feel‌ ‌her‌ ‌trembling.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌no‌ ‌longer‌ ‌clutched‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms,‌ ‌the‌ ‌dark‌ ‌shape‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌six-pointed‌ ‌yellow‌ ‌star‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌coat‌ ‌became‌ ‌visible.‌ ‌The‌ ‌true‌ ‌horror‌ ‌of‌ ‌what‌ ‌was‌ ‌happening‌ ‌struck‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌blow.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌whispered,‌ ‌“Her‌ ‌name’s‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌Katz.‌ ‌Leave‌ ‌word‌ ‌of‌ ‌where‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌for‌ ‌her‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead—”‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌flashed‌ ‌toward‌ ‌them.‌ ‌“You‌ ‌there,‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌shouted.‌ ‌With‌ ‌a‌ ‌gasp,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌whirled‌ ‌away.‌ ‌“Halt!‌ ‌Stay‌ ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌are!”‌ ‌Heart‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌throat,‌ ‌blood‌ ‌turning‌ ‌to‌ ‌ice,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌whirled‌ ‌away,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposite‌ ‌direction.‌ ‌Cloaked‌ ‌by‌ ‌night,‌ ‌she‌ ‌ran‌ ‌as‌ ‌lightly‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌careful‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌her‌ ‌heels‌ ‌from‌ ‌striking‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones,‌ ‌holding‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌close‌ ‌to‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest,‌ ‌one‌ ‌hand‌ ‌splayed‌ ‌against‌ ‌short,‌ ‌silky‌ ‌curls.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soft‌ ‌baby‌ ‌smell,‌ ‌the‌ ‌feel‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌firm‌ ‌little‌ ‌body‌ ‌against‌ ‌her,‌ ‌triggered‌ ‌such‌ ‌an‌ ‌explosion‌ ‌of‌ ‌emotion‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌went‌ ‌briefly‌ ‌light-headed.‌ ‌The‌ ‌panicky‌ ‌flutter‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌stomach‌ ‌solidified‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌knot—and‌ ‌then‌ ‌the‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌wriggling‌ ‌and‌ ‌soft‌ ‌sounds‌ ‌of‌ ‌discontent‌ ‌brought‌ ‌the‌ ‌present‌ ‌sharply‌ ‌back‌ ‌into‌ ‌focus.‌ ‌If‌ ‌she‌ ‌cried…‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌Terror‌ ‌tasted‌ ‌sharp‌ ‌and‌ ‌bitter‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌mouth.‌ ‌“Shh.‌ ‌Shh,‌ ‌Anna,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌crooned‌ ‌desperately.‌ ‌“Shh.”‌ ‌“I‌ ‌said‌ ‌‌halt‌!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier’s‌ ‌roar‌ ‌came‌ ‌as‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌grabbed‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌handle,‌ ‌wrenched‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌open—‌ ‌Bang.‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌bark‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌pistol.‌ ‌A‌ ‌woman’s‌ ‌piercing‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌‌piercing‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌No.‌ ‌‌Genevieve‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌it,‌ ‌but‌ ‌only‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌mind.‌ ‌The‌ ‌guilt‌ ‌of‌ ‌running‌ ‌away,‌ ‌of‌ ‌leaving‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌behind,‌ ‌crashed‌ ‌into‌ ‌her‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌speeding‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Blowing‌ ‌his‌ ‌whistle‌ ‌furiously,‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌ran‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps.‌ ‌More‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌burst‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌door,‌ ‌following‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌one‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps‌ ‌and‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌sight.‌ ‌Had‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌been‌ ‌shot?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌she‌ ‌dead?‌ ‌ ‌My‌ ‌God,‌ ‌my‌ ‌God.‌ ‌‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌heart‌ ‌slammed‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest.‌ ‌She‌ ‌threw‌ ‌herself‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat‌ ‌and—softly,‌ ‌carefully—closed‌ ‌the‌ ‌door.‌ ‌Because‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌dare‌ ‌do‌ ‌anything‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Coward.‌ ‌The‌ ‌baby‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌Staring‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌in‌ ‌petrified‌ ‌expectation‌ ‌of‌ ‌seeing‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌come‌ ‌charging‌ ‌after‌ ‌her‌ ‌at‌ ‌any‌ ‌second,‌ ‌she‌ ‌found‌ ‌herself‌ ‌panting‌ ‌with‌ ‌fear‌ ‌even‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌her‌ ‌best‌ ‌to‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌wailing‌ ‌child.‌ ‌Could‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌hear?‌ ‌Did‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌carrying‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby?‌ ‌If‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌caught‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌child…‌ ‌What‌ ‌else‌ ‌could‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌done?‌ ‌Max‌ ‌would‌ ‌say‌ ‌she‌ ‌should‌ ‌have‌ ‌stayed‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌it,‌ ‌stayed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌That‌ ‌the‌ ‌common‌ ‌good‌ ‌was‌ ‌more‌ ‌important‌ ‌than‌ ‌the‌ ‌plight‌ ‌of‌ ‌any‌ ‌single‌ ‌individual.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrified‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌all‌ ‌right,‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌you‌ ‌safe.‌ ‌Shh.”‌ ‌Settling‌ ‌back‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌position‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌more‌ ‌comfortably‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms,‌ ‌she‌ ‌murmured‌ ‌and‌ ‌patted‌ ‌and‌ ‌rocked.‌ ‌Instinctive‌ ‌actions,‌ ‌long‌ ‌forgotten,‌ ‌reemerged‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌moment‌ ‌of‌ ‌crisis.‌ ‌Through‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌clustering‌ ‌around‌ ‌something‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl,‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌little‌ ‌doubt,‌ ‌although‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden’s‌ ‌riotous‌ ‌blooms‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌her‌ ‌view.‌ ‌With‌ ‌Anna,‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌now,‌ ‌sprawled‌ ‌against‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest,‌ ‌a‌ ‌delayed‌ ‌reaction‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌shake.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌got‌ ‌back‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌“They’re‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌moving‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌as‌ ‌soon‌ ‌as‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌up.”‌ ‌His‌ ‌voice‌ ‌was‌ ‌gritty‌ ‌with‌ ‌emotion.‌ ‌Anger?‌ ‌Bitterness?‌ ‌“Someone‌ ‌tipped‌ ‌them‌ ‌off‌ ‌that‌ ‌Jews‌ ‌were‌ ‌hiding‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌and‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌arresting‌ ‌everybody.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌they’re—”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌broke‌ ‌off‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌sound.‌ ‌“Shh.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌patted,‌ ‌rocked.‌ ‌“Shh,‌ ‌shh.”‌ ‌ ‌His‌ ‌face‌ ‌a‌ ‌study‌ ‌in‌ ‌incredulity,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌leaned‌ ‌around‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌look.‌ ‌“Holy‌ ‌hell,‌ ‌is‌ ‌that‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌baby‌?”‌ ‌“Her‌ ‌mother‌ ‌was‌ ‌trapped‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌She‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌out.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌shot‌ ‌an‌ ‌alarmed‌ ‌look‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌where‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌now‌ ‌marched‌ ‌a‌ ‌line‌ ‌of‌ ‌people,‌ ‌young‌ ‌and‌ ‌old,‌ ‌including‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌small‌ ‌children‌ ‌clutching‌ ‌adults’‌ ‌hands,‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“My‌ ‌God,”‌ ‌he‌ ‌said,‌ ‌sounding‌ ‌appalled.‌ ‌“We’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌to‌ ‌get—”‌ ‌Appearing‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌seemingly‌ ‌nowhere,‌ ‌a‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌rapped‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌driver’s‌ ‌window.‌ ‌With‌ ‌his‌ ‌knuckles,‌ ‌hard.‌ ‌Oh,‌ ‌no.‌ ‌Please‌ ‌no.‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌heart‌ ‌pounded.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌stomach‌ ‌dropped‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌rock‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌stared‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌glass.‌ ‌We’re‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌arrested.‌ ‌Or‌ ‌shot.‌ ‌Whipping‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌neckline,‌ ‌she‌ ‌draped‌ ‌the‌ ‌brightly‌ ‌printed‌ ‌square‌ ‌across‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder‌ ‌and‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌child.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌cranked‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌down.‌ ‌“Papers,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌barked.‌ ‌Fear‌ ‌formed‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌knot‌ ‌under‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌breastbone.‌ ‌Despite‌ ‌the‌ ‌night’s‌ ‌chilly‌ ‌temperature,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌feel‌ ‌sweat‌ ‌popping‌ ‌out‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌forehead‌ ‌and‌ ‌upper‌ ‌lip.‌ ‌On‌ ‌penalty‌ ‌of‌ ‌arrest,‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌in‌ ‌Occupied‌ ‌France,‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌oldest‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌youngest,‌ ‌was‌ ‌required‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌identity‌ ‌documents‌ ‌readily‌ ‌available‌ ‌at‌ ‌all‌ ‌times.‌ ‌Hers‌ ‌were‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag,‌ ‌beside‌ ‌her‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat.‌ ‌But‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌had‌ ‌none.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌passed‌ ‌his‌ ‌cards‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌who‌ ‌turned‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch‌ ‌on‌ ‌them.‌ ‌As‌ ‌she‌ ‌picked‌ ‌up‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌stir.‌ ‌Please,‌ ‌God,‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌let‌ ‌her‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌“Here.”‌ ‌Quickly‌ ‌she‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌Otto.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌was‌ ‌squirming‌ ‌now.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌grab‌ ‌and‌ ‌secure‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌from‌ ‌underneath‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby’s‌ ‌movements‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌knock‌ ‌it‌ ‌askew.‌ ‌If‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌saw‌ ‌her…‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌whimpered.‌ ‌Muffled‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf,‌ ‌the‌ ‌sound‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌loud,‌ ‌but‌ ‌its‌ ‌effect‌ ‌on‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌was‌ ‌electric.‌ ‌She‌ ‌caught‌ ‌her‌ ‌breath‌ ‌as‌ ‌her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌shot‌ ‌into‌ ‌her‌ ‌throat—and‌ ‌reacted‌ ‌instinctively,‌ ‌as,‌ ‌once‌ ‌upon‌ ‌a‌ ‌time,‌ ‌it‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌second‌ ‌nature‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.‌ ‌She‌ ‌slid‌ ‌the‌ ‌tip‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌little‌ ‌finger‌ ‌between‌ ‌Anna’s‌ ‌lips.‌ ‌The‌ ‌baby‌ ‌responded‌ ‌as‌ ‌babies‌ ‌typically‌ ‌did:‌ ‌she‌ ‌latched‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌sucked.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌slide‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌focus.‌ ‌The‌ ‌familiarity‌ ‌of‌ ‌it,‌ ‌the‌ ‌bittersweet‌ ‌memories‌ ‌it‌ ‌evoked,‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌dizzy.‌ ‌She‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌force‌ ‌herself‌ ‌to‌ ‌stay‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌present,‌ ‌to‌ ‌concentrate‌ ‌on‌ ‌‌this‌ ‌‌child‌ ‌and‌ ‌this‌ ‌‌moment‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌exclusion‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌had‌ ‌handed‌ ‌her‌ ‌identity‌ ‌cards‌ ‌over.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌examined‌ ‌them‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch,‌ ‌then‌ ‌bent‌ ‌closer‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌and‌ ‌looked‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat‌.‌ ‌She‌ ‌almost‌ ‌expired‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌spot.‌ ‌“Mademoiselle‌ ‌Dumont.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure.‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌enjoyed‌ ‌your‌ ‌singing‌ ‌very‌ ‌much.”‌ ‌Anna’s‌ ‌hungry‌ ‌little‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌tugged‌ ‌vigorously‌ ‌at‌ ‌her‌ ‌finger.‌ ‌“Thank‌ ‌you,”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌said,‌ ‌and‌ ‌smiled.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌smiled‌ ‌back.‌ ‌Then‌ ‌he‌ ‌straightened,‌ ‌handed‌ ‌the‌ ‌papers‌ ‌back‌ ‌and,‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌thump‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌roof,‌ ‌stepped‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌cranked‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌tension‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌thick‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌almost‌ ‌physically‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌weight‌ ‌of‌ ‌it.‌ ‌“Let‌ ‌them‌ ‌through,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌called‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌near‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌truck.‌ ‌Now‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌unfortunate‌ ‌new‌ ‌prisoners,‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌starting‌ ‌to‌ ‌pull‌ ‌out.‌ ‌With‌ ‌a‌ ‌wave‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌followed,‌ ‌although‌ ‌far‌ ‌too‌ ‌slowly‌ ‌for‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌peace‌ ‌of‌ ‌mind.‌ ‌As‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌crawled‌ ‌after‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck,‌ ‌she‌ ‌cast‌ ‌a‌ ‌last,‌ ‌quick‌ ‌glance‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden:‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌nothing,‌ ‌not‌ ‌even‌ ‌soldiers.‌ ‌Was‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl—Anna’s‌ ‌mother—still‌ ‌there‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground?‌ ‌Or‌ ‌had‌ ‌she‌ ‌already‌ ‌been‌ ‌taken‌ ‌away?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌she‌ ‌dead?‌ ‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌sick‌ ‌to‌ ‌her‌ ‌stomach.‌ ‌But‌ ‌once‌ ‌again,‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌Acutely‌ ‌aware‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck’s‌ ‌large‌ ‌side‌ ‌and‌ ‌rear‌ ‌mirrors‌ ‌and‌ ‌what‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌seen‌ ‌through‌ ‌them,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌managed‌ ‌to‌ ‌stay‌ ‌upright‌ ‌and‌ ‌keep‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby‌ ‌hidden‌ ‌until‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌turned‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner‌ ‌and‌ ‌went‌ ‌its‌ ‌own‌ ‌way.‌ ‌Then,‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌as‌ ‌though‌ ‌her‌ ‌bones‌ ‌had‌ ‌turned‌ ‌to‌ ‌jelly,‌ ‌she‌ ‌slumped‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌door.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌gave‌ ‌up‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌finger‌ ‌and‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌cry,‌ ‌shrill,‌ ‌distressed‌ ‌wails‌ ‌that‌ ‌filled‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌With‌ ‌what‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌bit‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌strength,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌pushed‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌away‌ ‌and‌ ‌gathered‌ ‌her‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌rocked‌ ‌and‌ ‌patted‌ ‌and‌ ‌crooned‌ ‌to‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Just‌ ‌like‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌long‌ ‌ago‌ ‌done‌ ‌with—‌ ‌Do‌ ‌not‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌it.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌“Shh,‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌Shh.”‌ ‌“That‌ ‌was‌ ‌almost‌ ‌a‌ ‌disaster.”‌ ‌Otto’s‌ ‌voice,‌ ‌tight‌ ‌with‌ ‌reaction,‌ ‌was‌ ‌nonetheless‌ ‌soft‌ ‌for‌ ‌fear‌ ‌of‌ ‌disturbing‌ ‌the‌ ‌quieting‌ ‌child.‌ ‌“What‌ ‌do‌ ‌we‌ ‌do‌ ‌now?‌ ‌You‌ ‌can’t‌ ‌take‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌hotel.‌ ‌Think‌ ‌questions‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌asked?‌ ‌What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌bet‌ ‌that‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌talk‌ ‌about‌ ‌having‌ ‌met‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont?‌ ‌All‌ ‌it‌ ‌takes‌ ‌is‌ ‌one‌ ‌person‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌connection‌ ‌between‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌and‌ ‌you‌ ‌showing‌ ‌up‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌will‌ ‌ruin‌ ‌us‌ ‌all.‌ ‌It‌ ‌will‌ ‌ruin‌ ‌everything.”‌ ‌“I‌ ‌know.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌was‌ ‌limp.‌ ‌“Find‌ ‌Max.‌ ‌He’ll‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.”‌ ‌ ‌

Excerpted‌ ‌from‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Swan‌ ‌of‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌‌by‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards,‌ ‌Copyright‌ ‌©‌ ‌2020‌ ‌by‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards.‌ ‌Published‌ ‌by‌ ‌MIRA‌ ‌Books.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than fifty novels and one novella. She is the winner of six Silver Pen awards and numerous other awards.

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Author Website: http://karenrobards.com/

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The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti – Feature, Author Q&A, Excerpt

Publisher: Graydon House Books

Publication Date: May 12, 2020

Genre: Fiction

Buy Links: Harlequin  | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million| Powell’s

I am so excited to feature this gorgeous book on my blog today! It seems like the perfect read for Summer, especially if you were/ are in drama!

With a setting inspired by the real-life Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires where stars like Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lauren Graham, and Chris Pine have performed, THE SUMMER SET (Graydon House Books; May 12; $17.99) is a salacious rom-com, beach read perfect for Broadway nerds and Hollywood gossips alike.

Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world back at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her first love, Nick, is the artistic director.

It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself thriving: bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships, and even reigniting her spark with Nick despite their complicated history.

Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current “It Girl,” is brought on set, threatening to undo everything she’s been working towards. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on one heck of a show to fight for the second chance she deserves in her career and in love.

2

I MISSED YOU TOO

Charlie studied herself in her bathroom mirror. In just a week her bruised eye had faded to the dull gray of rancid meat, now easily disguised by concealer. She flat-ironed her raven hair, securing it in a sleek, low ponytail, then rummaged the closet for her most professional-looking getup: that slim black suit, pale pink silk blouse with the bow at the neck and the stilettos she only wore when she felt compelled to impress. Her wardrobe from that perfume ad a decade earlier but timeless nonetheless, just like the moniker that had been etched in script on the curved bottle of the fragrance.

Outside, Boston did its best impersonation of her supposed hometown, London. (Though she had lived away from there enough during childhood to have eluded the accent.) The dreary May rain made her think of her mom: the estimable Dame Sarah Rose Kingsbury. News of Charlie’s incident had warranted mentions in a few celebrity weeklies and, unfortunately, made the hop across the pond. Her mother had called, texted and finally, after no response, emailed: Charlie, Did you receive my voice mail and text? I trust you’re alright. Another of your stunts? Please respond. Love, Mum. Her mom’s correspondence always scanned like a telegram, full of stops and full stops—much like their relationship itself. Charlie, reveling in being briefly unreachable and not in the mood to answer questions, hadn’t yet bothered to replace her phone and had indeed missed the call but wrote back assuring her mom that she was fine, though the accident had not, in fact, been performance art.

By the time Charlie reached the foreboding Suffolk County Courthouse, her lawyer/friend Sam—who had shepherded her through the theater purchase (while questioning her sanity)—was already there pacing, barking into her phone.

“This should be easy,” Sam told her, hanging up, hugging her while scrolling her inbox. Sam wore suits and radiated responsibility, two things Charlie found comforting in a lawyer. “Be contrite and it should be open-and-shut for community service.”

The sterile courtroom’s pin-drop silence made Charlie shiver. Next to her, Sam tucked her phone in her bag and rose to her feet, gesturing for Charlie to stand as the judge materialized at the bench. Charlie found it oddly reassuring that the judge was the kind of woman who wore pearls and a frilly collar outside her robe.

“You were okay with my email, right?” Sam whispered, as they sat again.

“What email?” she whispered back.

“My email. An hour ago? You have got to get a new phone,” Sam scolded.

“I know, I know—”

“There was this arrangement, last minute, I hope you’ll be amenable to but—”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie pleaded.

The judge had begun speaking, so Sam hushed her. Too late.

“Ms. Savoy, this is the part where I get to talk.” The judge looked up from the paper she had been reading aloud. “Maybe it was different in your episodes of Law & Order?”

“No, ma’am, I mean, Your Honor, sir, ma’am, no,” Charlie stumbled. She had been wrong about the judge. The woman continued on about the damage Charlie caused and the significant hours of service required like Charlie was the honoree at one of those Comedy Central roasts, albeit one that could end with her in a jail cell.

Until finally, the judge cut to the chase: “…an assignment has presented itself,” she said slowly. “Which will make fine use of Ms. Savoy’s expertise…” Charlie caught Sam’s side-eye. “So Charlotte Savoy shall be required to complete sixty days with the Chamberlain Summer Theater in—”

“NO!” Charlie expelled the word, an anaphylactic response. The judge scowled as though jail might still be an option. “Sorry, Your Honor, I just mean—can I object?” Sam shot her a lethal glare. “It’s just that, well—” Charlie tried again as a door at the back of the courtroom creaked open, footsteps echoing. She turned to discover the equivalent of a ghost.

Nick Blunt—director, ex, first love, disappointment, invertebrate—heading her way.

“Mr. Blunt, thank you for joining us,” the judge said, unimpressed.

Charlie’s posture straightened, heartbeat ticking faster than seemed medically sound. She felt betrayed by her own being, muscles, nerves, ashamed of this reaction.

“Sorry, Your Honor,” he said in that deep rasp.

Charlie wished she hated that voice. And it seemed an abomination that he could still be attractive—physically at least.

Rugged with an athletic build, he wore black jeans, a blazer and aviator sunglasses, which he pulled off as he walked (pure affectation since, to her knowledge, it was still raining outside), tucking them into the V of his slim sweater.

He took his place beside Charlie, flashing that smile he deployed when he aimed to be his most charming.

“Hi there,” he said, as though surprised to be meeting this way.

“Shouldn’t you be wearing a cape?” Charlie rolled her eyes, focused on the judge reading again, and returned her body to its proper slouch, recalibrating her expression between boredom and disgust.

“I missed you too, Charlie,” he whispered back.

From the corner of her eye, Charlie spotted the sharp beak of that tattoo—the meadowlark—curving around from the back of his neck. It was still there, which gave her a pang of affection, a flare-up she forced herself to snuff out. She imagined how they might look to those few people sitting in the rows behind them. Nick and her with these identical birds inked onto the backs of their necks, midflight and gazing at each other anytime he stood on her right side, as he did now. Mirror images, bookends, the birds’ once-vibrant golden hue as faded as the memory of the hot, sticky night she and Nick had stolen away from campus to get them together.

Over the years, she had considered having hers removed or morphed into some other design, but why should she? She liked it. At face value. Charlie sighed again, more loudly than intended, as her mind sped to how this summer would now be.

“Ms. Savoy, is there a problem?” the judge asked, irked.

“Your Honor, I just wondered—is there a littered park or something? Instead?”

“We’re fine, Your Honor.” Sam patted Charlie’s arm in warning.

“Ms. Savoy will report to service June 1.” The judge slammed the gavel, which, to Charlie, sounded like a nail being hammered into a coffin.

“I had a client last week who’s cleaning restrooms at South Station this summer,” Sam said apologetically as they walked out.

Charlie just charged ahead down the hall, an urgent need to escape, her mind struggling to process it all.

“So, craziest thing happened,” Nick launched in, catching up to them at the elevator. “I was reading the news and saw about your little mishap—” He sounded truly concerned for a moment.

“Don’t pretend like you don’t have a Google alert on me,” Charlie cut him off, stabbing the down button too many times.

“You always were a terrible driver—”

“That river came outta nowhere—”

“But a stellar swimmer—”

She nodded once. She couldn’t argue with that.

He went on, “So I made a few calls and—”

“Don’t be fooled by…that.” She waved her hand back toward the courtroom. “You need me more than I need you.”

The elevator opened.

“We’ll see about that.” He let them on first. Charlie hit the button again-again-again to close the doors, but he made it in. “How long has it been, anyway?”

“You know how long it’s been,” she said as the doors closed so she was now looking at their reflection. It had been six years, three months, two weeks and two days since they last saw each other. At the long-awaited premiere for Midnight Daydream—which should’ve been a thrilling night since a series of snags had pushed the film’s release date back two years after filming. But instead of celebratory toasts, it had ended with a glass of the party’s signature cocktail—a messy blackberry-infused bourbon concoction the shade of the night sky—being thrown. In retrospect, she thought, there’d been so many signs the movie was cursed.

“You’re just mad your self-imposed exile is over.” He smirked.

“Always with the probing psychoanalysis.” She watched the floor numbers descend, doors finally opening.

Sam scurried out ahead of them. “My work here is done. I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do.” She gave Charlie an air-kiss before striding off.

“Wait, no, I just need to—” Charlie tried to stop her, but Sam had already hopped in a cab.

“So, I have an office not too far, off Newbury Street, off-season headquarters for Chamberlain—” Nick started.

“Luckily you’re usually phoning it in, so I haven’t had the privilege of running into you around town.” She walked ahead in the cool, pelting rain.

He stayed where he was. “I’d invite you out for a drink—”

“It’s, like, 10 a.m. That’s too early. Even for you—” She glanced back.

“Summer is gorgeous in the Berkshires, as you may recall,” he shouted, sunglasses back on, absurdly, and that smile again. “Welcome back to Chamberlain, Charlie.

Excerpted from The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti, Copyright © 2020 by Aimee Agresti. 

Published by Graydon House Books.

Q&A with Aimee Agresti

Q: Please give your elevator pitch for The Summer Set.

A: Gladly! THE SUMMER SET is a romp about a former Hollywood It Girl—Charlie Savoy—who flamed out, left the film world and now is almost 40 and back at the summer Shakespeare theater where she got her start as a teen….and where her ex is the artistic director. Drama and hijinks ensue! But it’s really a universal story about old flames, old friends, old rivals and second acts: having the courage to shake up your life!

Q: Which came first: the characters or plot line?

A: They sort of arrived together! This idea has been with me for a long time: I always had Charlie, my main character, and this sense of wanting her to be embarking on a “second act.” I wanted to tell the story of a bold, wild child kind of star who flamed out early and had to start over and figure out what she truly wanted. I always knew this character would be the type who seemed confident to anyone watching but was actually much more vulnerable deep down. Someone who’s acting as much offstage as onstage!

Q: Why do you love Charlie and why should readers root for her?

A: I really loved writing this character: she’s impulsive and aggressive and tough and uncontrollable. But all of her bravado is covering up how out of place she feels, how nervous she is to be back in the theater world after feeling like she failed in her film career. Anyone who has ever tried to act like they had it all together while actually being unsure on the inside (which I think is all of us, right?!) will understand Charlie and feel she’s a kindred spirit.

Q: We can see from your bio that you have written extensively about entertainment topics. Have you ever been involved in theatre yourself? If so, in which capacities? If not, what fascinates you about the theatre world?

A: As anyone who saw me as Miss Jones in Sherwood High School’s 1994 production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying would know: I am that drama geek who loves theater as much as humanly possible while having no actual talent. 😉  I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town with a fantastic theater—the Olney Theatre in Olney, MD—and I volunteered there (offstage!) all through high school. It was an amazing place because the actors were incredible, they were New York-based, and they would come and actually live together at a residence on the theater property. I’ve always had an overactive imagination so I remember wondering what went on there: which ones were friends, which ones weren’t, was anyone hooking up?! I was fascinated. That experience hanging around there definitely sowed the very early seeds of this novel!

Q: Obviously you’ve interacted with many celebrities. Who were the most fascinating to talk to? 

A: Oooh, there were so many fun ones: George Clooney is my all-time favorite (he’s EVERYONE’S favorite!) because he’s just a supernice guy and is that type who seems to always be having a great time. Some more of my favorites who also had that same warm spirit and were so much fun to chat with: Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Grant, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the list goes on!

 Q: If you could star in a movie or Broadway show, which one would you choose and why?

A: HA! OMG, I love this question! Since THE SUMMER SET is set at a summer theater, I’ll choose Broadway! Wow, there are just. So. Many! I would love to be Angelica in Hamilton and Mimi in Rent and Roxie in Chicago! I assure you I would be absolutely TERRIBLE in all of these roles but it would be tons of fun!

Q: What was your last 5 star read?

A: I just re-read a favorite–THE LOST VINTAGE by the wonderful Ann Mah! It’s an absolute gem of a novel about love, secrets and drama in French wine country. Beautiful writing, fantastic storytelling and it also satisfies the wanderlust we’re all feeling these days.

Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

A: Oh wow, I feel like even five books in, I’m still learning! But I think one thing I never would’ve expected before I published my first novel is that every time a book comes out you feel that HUGE excitement but also that little rush of nerves, like: “OMG this thing that, for years, only lived in my head and on my laptop is now out there!!! Aaaah!” Or maybe that’s just me? 😉

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

A: A love of reading! My mom is a librarian so I grew up reading everything in sight and I’ve just always loved escaping into books. I went to journalism school and worked in magazines, which I absolutely adored, but I always dreamed of writing novels, so I feel incredibly lucky to get to do this!

Q: What was your journey to get your first book published?

A: Great question! My first novel was ILLUMINATE, the first of my YA Gilded Wings Trilogy. I tend to write the book I most want to read at any given time and I got lucky that when I was in the mood for YA, so were a lot of other people, so that worked out! But I actually wrote another book BEFORE that one—it was a totally different vibe and not YA–that just didn’t hit things right, for whatever reason. I always say that publishing–the fiction world especially–is like falling in love and you need the right person to read the right manuscript on the right day and have the right connection to it in order to get published. I feel very lucky every time a book gets published!

Q: Let’s talk about your writing, what is your writing process like? Do you follow an outline or do you just see where the story leads you? 

A: I’m a major outliner! I need to have everything mapped out. I need to know this journey has a destination. I admire writers who can let things unfold as they go—how freeing that must be!—but I’m a planner, it gives me comfort. Although, there are plenty of twists that only present themselves when you’re in the middle of writing so I do always let myself deviate from my outline too, great stuff comes out of that!

Q: Do you share your work along the way or wait until it is complete to have others read?

A: My sister is my beta reader and she is amazing! Sometimes I’ll give her the book as I’m writing it, as I did with THE SUMMER SET, and other times I’ll wait until it’s all finished (like with my previous novel, CAMPAIGN WIDOWS), it mostly depends on how tight the deadline is! She’s incredible and I’m so grateful for her close eye and the time she spends doing this for me. Since she enjoys the same books/films/stories/genres as I do, I know that if there’s something in my novel that isn’t working for her then it’s not going to work for any reader! She’s the best! If you’re reading this: Hi, sis!

Q: What inspired you to write The Summer Set

A: I’ve always loved the film/TV/theater/music universe. I started out writing for entertainment magazines—Us Weekly, Premiere—and those jobs were incredible and offered me this amazing glimpse into that celebrity world with all of its ups and downs and drama and excitement. I’m an arts girl so I think there’s something magical about the way a great show, whether on stage or screen, can transport you or connect with you or seem to understand you. And I think the people who are able to bring those stories to life are fascinating!

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

A: I’m (slooooowly) at work on the next novel! It’s in those early stages but it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time so I’m excited! Wish me luck!!

Q: What’s your favorite genre? 

A: Oooh, that’s tough! I actually will read anything and everything! For me, it just depends on the story. I’m always on board for great writing and the kind of storytelling that keeps me hooked and turning pages!

Q: Who is your favorite author? 

A: I could never choose just one! I grew up on the classics (Austen, the Brontes, Hemingway, Salinger, on and on!) and I adore them so much and revisit them often like checking in on old friends! As for contemporary authors, I love Tom Perrotta, Nick Hornby, Emma Straub, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, to name a few! There are so many that I love and admire!

Q: What are your top 3 favorite books of all time

A: Oh man, this is REALLY tough because there are just soooo many. But I’ll go with these:  

–Pride and Prejudice: I could read this every day! I’m completely Jane Austen-obsessed so I actually feel that way about all of her books. Even now, I’m thinking: should I choose Emma?! Or Persuasion?! How do you choose?!

–The Catcher in the Rye: I love everything Salinger. But Holden Caulfield was my first literary crush!

–A Moveable Feast: I also love everything Hemingway but I’ll go with this one because I’m pretty sure I belong in Paris in the ‘20s. (Aside from my very bad French.)

Q: How do you decide what kind of journey you want your characters to go on?

A: That’s a fantastic, huge question! Those first flashes I always have of a novel are of the main character in some sort of inner turmoil. So I tend to know the reason I’m going to be telling their story in the first place, but figuring out how to show it all and get from point A to B to C, takes a lot of mapping out!

Q: Would you ever write YA fantasy novels again?

A: I love this question! Absolutely, if the right story sparked! I had so much fun writing the Gilded Wings Trilogy, I miss those characters and still think of them and what adventures they might still be having! And I do miss writing magic and superpowers, it was always exciting to get to dream up those elements. So, you never know, I might just have to get back to that! 😉

Aimee Agresti is the author of Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings trilogy for young adults. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. Aimee’s work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer, and she has made countless TV and radio appearances, dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and HLN. Aimee graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @AimeeAgresti

Instagram: @aimeeagresti

Facebook: @AimeeAgrestiAuthor

Goodreads

The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: Mira Books

Publication Date: April 28, 2020

Genre: Fiction

BUY LINKS:

Harlequin | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Target | Walmart| Google | Kobo

When a little white lie becomes the story of your life, what if the truth comes out?

For three woman, it’s a life-changing trip: one finds the man of her dreams, another discovers inspiration amidst Italian food and culture, while a chance encounter with a handsome local ushers in the ultimate life change for the third. But most importantly, it’s the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship between all three.

Now years later, Kim Weston – entrepreneur and owner of internationally successful Italian food and lifestyle business, The Sweet Life – has bought and restored the tumble-down villa to its former glory — and plans to reopen Villa Dolce Vita as a wellness/cultural retreat – a fitting honor to the root of her business inspiration.

To celebrate the villa’s grand opening, she and her Italian business partners are throwing a huge three-day party; flying a group of family, business and media contacts to the Amalfi Coast to join in the celebrations. And most importantly, the (still) close friends who started the journey with her: Annie and husband Nate, whose love story began at the villa, and single mum Eva, whose son was the result of an ill-advised Italian fling.

But in the run up to the planned weekend in Italy, it becomes clear that not everyone is happy about the party, nor are they on board with such ambitious plans for the location. And, as Villa Dolce Vita’s grand relaunch draws closer, old memories and past secrets come to light, and the three old friends are forced to question if anything that happened on that first fateful trip to the villa is at all what it seemed.

I am so excited to feature this beautiful book today on my blog! It definitley makes me want to go to a villa in Italy! Check out an excerpt below! Thank you so much to Mira Books for having me on the blog tour!

Prologue

It was just a little white lie. A way to kick-start her freedom.

And Kim Weston was now officially a runaway.

She couldn’t help but laugh at the idea as she stared out the window of the airplane into the abyss around her. Thirty years old—an adult—and here she was, running away from home.

She’d boarded a flight from JFK earlier and watched as the sky turned from pale blue to black. They were already six hours into a nine-hour journey and she was tired but couldn’t sleep.

There wasn’t a star to be seen, no way to discriminate the ocean below from the sky above. Nothing but emptiness.

Ironic because it was exactly how Kim felt inside. She had no reason to, or so everyone told her.

She had everything—the luxurious Manhattan apartment,a personal driver to take her wherever she wanted to go, generous expense accounts at all the best Fifth Avenue stores, and a black Amex to service every last one of her spending needs.

She and her friends were the crème de la crème of New York’s Upper East Side society set and partied with celebrities and VIPs alike. By all accounts she had the quintessential dream life.

So why was she running away?

She could still hear her parents’ voices in her head and her own guilt in her heart as she sat quietly nursing a vodka and orange juice.

Most of the cabin’s passengers were asleep, and the crew was moving around less frequently, but Kim’s mind simply wouldn’t quit.

For once, she wasn’t playing the role she’d been allotted. If she was expected to assume her part in the Weston family script for the rest of her life, then she needed a chance to play the rebel, even if only briefly.

Everything was planned to ensure that her parents wouldn’t find her—at least not for a little while.

Her destination (and certainly choice of accommodation) wasn’t somewhere Peter or Gloria would ever think to look for her, since it was so far removed from the kind of places the Westons usually frequented.

No five-star luxury hotel suite awaiting Kim when she arrived. Instead she was staying at a tumbledown villa she’d found on the internet, where she’d be sharing living space and possibly even a room with other guests. She shuddered involuntarily.

Kim was roughing it, in as much as someone like her could. The house had no on-site staff, apparently there was someone who’d come by daily to tidy and meet and greet, but that was it. No concierge, butler, in-house chef—nothing.

For once, she was going to have to cater for herself—in more ways than one.

That gave her some sense of unease; she wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart, which was why she also planned to maybe enlist herself in an Italian cooking class, as suggested by the booking site she’d used. Failing that, she’d just survive on pizza and pasta. It was Italy after all.

And she could afford that much, for a little while at least.

It was early afternoon when the flight landed at Naples airport and the transfer service she’d arranged (her final luxury—she wasn’t going to rough it entirely after a transatlantic economy flight) picked her up outside the terminal.

“Signorina Weston?” the driver holding the sign with her name on it queried as she approached.

“That’s me.”

“Buongiorno. Right this way,” the young Italian man instructed as he directed Kim to a waiting black Mercedes.

She stepped outside of the terminal, her long slender legs clad in white jeans, which complemented her hot pink poncho. Sunglasses protected her eyes from the bright sun but she still held a hand to her forehead to shield them as she stared up at an almost cloudless Italian blue sky.

“I am Alfeo,” the driver introduced himself as they walked, taking her luggage along with him. “How was your flight?”

“Long,” she answered. She was bone-tired, a little cranky and not particularly in the mood for small talk.

Alfeo nodded and opened the car door for her. “The journey will take just over an hour and a half depending on traffic. But we can stop along the way if you need anything.”

“That’s fine,” Kim replied as she slid into the back seat and tipped her head against the leather headrest. She closed her eyes, suddenly spent and exhausted from worrying now that she was here.

She was really doing this…

It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when she was woken by Alfeo’s voice announcing arrival at their destination.

Kim blinked several times as she tried to gather her bearings, then lowered the window to look out at her surroundings. They were parked down some kind of laneway, and up ahead she could make out a grubby wall of peach-colored plaster, and a paint-chipped wooden door—the only interruption on an otherwise blank facade.

Unimpressed, she regarded the weather-worn door and its tarnished brass ring, and hid a frown as she dragged manicured nails through her tousled blonde mane, pulling her hair partially over her shoulder.

Her heart fell. This place looked like a complete dump. She sincerely hoped the inside was a helluva lot better.

“This is Villa Dolce Vita, right?” she asked, casting a fatigued gaze at Alfeo as she stepped out onto the dusty gravel pathway.

“Sì. Villa Dolce Vita.”

“I’ll need your number,” she stated as she walked toward him with her phone in hand. “Just in case.”

Alfeo complied, assuring her that he’d be available whenever she needed, the suggestive grin on his face indicating he meant for more than just transportation. Were Italian men really such unabashed flirts?

“Can you maybe just help get my cases inside before you go?”

“Of course.” He duly took her suitcases out of the boot, while Kim wandered further along the perimeter wall to where a break in the trees gave way to a view of the sea.

Realizing that they were on an elevated site, high above the glittering Gulf of Naples, she glanced to her left to see a group of impossibly beautiful pastel-colored buildings and terra-cotta roofs, clinging and huddled together.

The setup immediately put her in mind of a huge piñata cake: the center of the green and gray mountain cut open to release a tumbling selection of irresistible pastel-colored candy.

Now this is more like it…

Further along down the coast, rock promontories jutted out above diverging bays, beaches and terraces, all presiding over cerulean waters. Hills dotted with lush vineyards, olive trees and citrus groves looked down over the colorful shops, cafés, hotels and historic buildings scattered below.

Sailboats dotted the clear blue waters and, looking down from where she stood, Kim could see snaking wooden steps leading all the way to the rocky shore below.

The whole thing was dizzying in every sense of the word.

By the time she returned to the villa entrance, Alfeo was gone, but the old wooden door had been left ajar.

Kim slipped through into the courtyard area to discover a hidden garden of sorts.

The dark pea gravel of outside gave way to a lighter-colored, more decorative kind, and she noticed heavy stone planters dotted throughout the small courtyard area, housing rows of mature lemon and olive trees.

Coupled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea tumbling down the edge of an old stone building—evidently the villa itself—the garden was a riot of color and, against the azure sky and glittering water on the bay, made for a picture-perfect entrance.

Citrus scent from the lemon trees followed as Kim walked to the front of the property, her senses now well and truly awakened.

The villa was of the same blotchy peach plaster as the out. The side wall, a pretty two-story house with a terra-cotta roof and rustic windows trimmed with dull cast-iron railings that had long since seen better days.

Turning to check out the view from the front of the house, Kim noticed a terraced area beneath the gardens, accessible by four or five stone steps leading down to a small pool bordering the edge of the entire site overlooking the panoramic bay.

Without the ornate bougainvillea-laden perimeter railings holding everything together, it was as if the entire site could easily slip right off the edge and plummet down to the rocky shore below.

OK, so this place was old, but surprisingly charming, and while Kim didn’t have high hopes for the quality of accommodation, given the crumbling exteriors, she already felt a weird sense of calm at just being here.

It was as if Villa Dolce Vita had already cast a spell on her.

A chipped wooden front door with a ringed black-painted knocker at its center stood wide open, and Kim hesitated momentarily as she listened for noise from inside.

She wasn’t sure if there were other guests staying there already or if anyone was even expecting her, but there was no going back now.

She took a deep breath. She was really here. Doing her own thing, finding her own path.

Time to take the plunge.

Here goes nothing…

Excerpted from The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill, Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Hill. Published by MIRA Books.

MELISSA HILL lives in south Dublin with her husband and daughter. A USA TODAY and international #1 bestseller, she is the author of 13 novels, including The Gift of a Charm and A Gift From Tiffany’s. The Gift of a Charm was a USA TODAY bestseller. Hailed “the queen of the big plot twist,” she combines all the warmth and humor of contemporary women’s fiction with plots that keep readers guessing from page to page. Melissa also cowrites forensic thrillers with her husband, Kevin, under the pseudonym Casey Hill, featuring crime scene investigator Reilly Steel. For more information, visit www.caseyhillbooks.com.

SOCIAL:

Author Website: http://www.melissahill.ie/

TWITTER: @melissahillbks

FB: @melissahillbooks

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/334579.Melissa_Hill

The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig – Feature

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, maybe a tad magical realism, Horror

Goodreads | Amazon

“A fierce blend of Gothic ghost story and Victorian novel of manners that’s also pitch perfect for our current cultural moment

Iseult Wince is a Victorian woman perilously close to spinsterhood whose distinctly unpleasant father is trying to marry her off. She is awkward, plain, and most pertinently, believes that her mother, who died in childbirth, lives in the scar on her neck. Iseult’s father parades a host of unsuitable candidates before her, the majority of whom Iseult wastes no time frightening away. When at last her father finds a suitor desperate enough to take Iseult off his hands—a man whose medical treatments have turned his skin silver—a true comedy of errors ensues. As history’s least conventional courtship progresses into talk of marriage, Iseult’s mother becomes increasingly volatile and uncontrollable, and Iseult is forced to resort to extreme, often violent, measures to keep her in check.

As the day of the wedding nears, Iseult must decide whether (and how) to set the course of her life, with increasing interference from both her mother and father, tipping her ever closer to madness, and to an inevitable, devastating final act.”

I tried my hand at another inspo board. If you are looking for something dark and horror related, I would definitely read this! It is written beautifully with a unique style. However, I will give you some warnings; if you at all are triggered by self harm or suicide, this is not for you. BUT if you are looking for a dark atmospheric read, read away!

*Amazon link is my affiliate link*

Beautiful Melody by K. E. Drake – Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: Independent

Publication Date: December 15, 2019

Genre: Fairytale, Fantasy

Goodreads | Amazon

“An evil king, an enchanted wolf, and a plot that could bring the whole kingdom crashing down around her.

After the sudden and tragic loss of both of her parents, once a merchant’s daughter, Melody Prescott now works as a maid at the palace. Melody is taken in and adopted by the queen of the kingdom.

At the palace, she lives a quiet life until one day she discovers a plot that threatens to put the kingdom and her very life in danger.

From the scheming king, to the enchanted wolf that saved her life, to the masked man she met at the ball, Melody’s heart and her life are at risk as her quiet world becomes filled with danger and mystery.

Will Melody survive, or will the looming darkness conquer the kingdom?”

Excerpt:

“Can I ask why you asked me to dance with you? Or is that information confidential?” His pale eyes sparkled as they searched her face.
“Why, because I haven’t noticed you participating in any of the dances this evening,” was Melody’s excuse.
She tried to keep from looking into his face, so she gazed beyond the ballroom to the gardens outside. The sun cast rays of warm light in through the windows, bathing the ballroom in orange light.
“You are a terrible liar, my lady.” He drew her attention back to him. He twirled her in a circle then brought her back to himself. “What is the real reason?”
Melody bit her lip as if pained. She looked back over her shoulder and found the prince standing alone near the edge of the dance floor.
“Ah. Avoiding the prince, are we?”
Her gaze snapped back to the stranger. “Sir, that is not the reason-” she started.
“You don’t have to make excuses with me, Princess. I saw you talking to him right before you asked me to dance.”
Melody watched her partner with eyes narrowed as they moved in beat with the slow song. “Were you watching me?”
He considered her a moment before answering. “Only a little,” he admitted with a smile. “You’re quite intriguing. First you run away from a prince. Then I find you hiding out in the gardens, and you run away from me. Sometime later, to avoid dancing with the prince, you ask a perfect stranger to dance with you.” He quietly chuckled, and Melody’s cheeks heated as she stared at the buttons of his black shirt.
“What is your name, then?” she asked to cover up her embarrassment.
He only looked at her, and she tried again, “You said I asked a perfect stranger to dance. What, then, is your name, sir?”

I love happily ever after. Really, really love happily ever after. My passion is writing and creating stories that bring a smile to the face of the person reading it. If my book makes you smile at least once during the story, I consider it a success.

I live in a small town in Missouri USA. If I’m not sitting at my computer, putting off doing any sort of real work, you can find me in my kitchen baking cookies, spending time with my family, or binge-watching a newly discovered television series.

I publish books both on Wattpad and on Amazon Kindle. Check me out on both sites for different collections of fun stories that I hope bring a smile to your day.

The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne – Feature, Excerpt, Q&A

Publisher: HQN Books

Publication Date: March 17, 2020

Genre: Romance, Fiction

Buy Links: 

Harlequin | Indiebound| Amazon | Barnes & Noble  | Books-A-Million | Target | Walmart | Google | iBooks | Kobo

I am so excited to be featuring this lovely book on my blog today! Plus there is an excerpt AND an author Q&A! Thank you so much to Harlequin for having me on the tour!

From the New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne comes a brand-new novel for fans of Debbie Macomber and Susan Wiggs. RaeAnne Thayne tells the story of an emotional homecoming that brings hope and healing to three generations of women.

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured in a car accident, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.”

1

Olivia

Olivia shoved her hands into her pockets against the damp Seattle afternoon. Nothing would take the chill from her bones, though. She knew that. Even five days of sick leave, huddling in her bed and mindlessly bingeing on cooking shows hadn’t done anything but make her crave cake.

She couldn’t hide away in her apartment forever. Eventually she was going to have to reenter life and go back to work, which was why she stood outside this coffee shop in a typical spring drizzle with her heart pounding and her stomach in knots.

This was stupid. The odds of anything like that happening to her again were ridiculously small. She couldn’t let one man battling mental illness and drug abuse control the rest of her life.

She could do this.

She reached out to pull the door open, but before she could make contact with the metal handle, her cell phone chimed from her pocket.

She knew instantly from the ringtone it was her best friend from high school, who still lived in Cape Sanctuary with her three children.

Talking to Melody was more important than testing her resolve by going into the Kozy Kitchen right now, she told herself. She answered the call, already heading back across the street to her own apartment.

“Mel,” she answered, her voice slightly breathless from the adrenaline still pumping through her and from the stairs she was racing up two at a time. “I’m so glad you called.”

Glad didn’t come close to covering the extent of her relief. She really hadn’t wanted to go into that coffee shop. Not yet. Why should she make herself? She had coffee at home and could have groceries delivered when she needed them. 

“You know why I’m calling, then?” Melody asked, a strange note in her voice.

“I know it’s amazing to hear from you. You’ve been on my mind.”

She was not only a coward but a lousy friend. She hadn’t checked in with Melody in a few weeks, despite knowing her friend was going through a life upheaval far worse than witnessing an attack on someone else.

As she unlocked her apartment, the cutest rescue dog in the world, a tiny, fluffy cross between a Chihuahua and a miniature poodle, gyrated with joy at the sight of her.

Yet another reason she didn’t have to leave. If she needed love and attention, she only had to call her dog and Otis would come running.

She scooped him up and let him lick her face, already feeling some of her anxiety calm.

“I was thinking how great it would be if you and the boys could come up and stay with me for a few days when school gets out for the summer,” she said now to Melody. “We could take the boys to the Space Needle, maybe hop the ferry up to the San Juans and go whale watching. They would love it. What do you think?”

The words seemed to be spilling out of her, too fast. She was babbling, a weird combination of relief that she hadn’t had to face that coffee shop and guilt that she had been wrapped up so tightly with her own life that she hadn’t reached out to a friend in need.

“My apartment isn’t very big,” she went on without waiting for an answer. “But I have an extra bedroom and can pick up some air beds for the boys. They’ve got some really comfortable ones these days. I’ve got a friend who says she stayed on one at her sister’s house in Tacoma and slept better than she does on her regular mattress. I’ve still got my car, though I hardly drive it in the city, and the boys would love to meet Otis. Maybe we could even drive to Olympic National Park, if you wanted.”

“Liv. Stop.” Melody cut her off. “Though that all sounds amazing and I’m sure the boys would love it, we can talk about that later. You have no idea why I called, do you?”

“I… Why did you call?”

Melody was silent for a few seconds. “I’m afraid there’s been an accident,” she finally said.

The breath ran out of Olivia like somebody had popped one of those air mattresses with a bread knife.

“Oh no. Is it one of your boys?” Oh please, she prayed. Don’t let it be one of the boys.

Melody had been through enough over the past three months, since her jerkhole husband ran off with one of his high school students.

“No, honey. It’s not my family. It’s yours.”

Her words seemed to come from far away and it took a long time for them to pierce through.

No. Impossible.

Fear rushed back in, swamping her like a fast-moving tide. She sank blindly onto the sofa.

“Is it Caitlin?”

“It’s not your niece. Stop throwing out guesses and just let me tell you. It’s your mom. Before you freak out, let me just say, first of all, she’s okay, from what I understand. I don’t have all the details but I do know she’s in the hospital, but she’s okay. It could have been much worse.”

Her mom. Olivia tried to picture Juliet lying in a hospital bed and couldn’t quite do it. Juliet Harper didn’t have time to be in a hospital bed. She was always hurrying somewhere, either next door to Sea Glass Cottage to the garden center the Harper family had run in Cape Sanctuary for generations or down the hill to town to help a friend or to one of Caitlin’s school events.

“What happened?” 

“She had a bad fall and suffered a concussion and I think some broken bones.”

Olivia’s stomach twisted. A concussion. Broken bones. Oh man. “Fell where? Off one of the cliffs near the garden center?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know all the details yet. This just happened this morning and it’s still early for the gossip to make all the rounds around town. I assumed you already knew. That Caitlin or someone would have called you. I was only checking in to see how I can help.”

This morning. She glanced at her watch. Her mother had been in an accident hours earlier and Olivia was just finding out about it now, in late afternoon.

Someone should have told her—if not Juliet herself, then, as Melody said, at least Caitlin.

Given their recent history, it wasn’t particularly surprising that her niece, raised by Olivia’s mother since she was a baby, hadn’t bothered to call. Olivia wasn’t Caitlin’s favorite person right now. These days, during Olivia’s regular video chats with her mother, Caitlin never popped in to say hi anymore. At fifteen, Caitlin was abrasive and moody and didn’t seem to like Olivia much, for reasons she didn’t quite understand.

“I’m sure someone tried to reach me but my phone has been having trouble,” she lied. Her phone never had trouble. She made sure it was always in working order, since so much of her freelance business depended on her clients being able to reach her and on her being able to Tweet or post something on the fly.

“I’m glad I checked in, then.”

“Same here. Thank you.”

Several bones broken and a long recovery. Oh dear. That would be tough on Juliet, especially this time of year when the garden center always saw peak business.

“Thank you for telling me. Is she in the hospital there in Cape Sanctuary or was she taken to one of the bigger cities?”

“I’m not sure. I can call around for you, if you want.”

“I’ll find out. You have enough to worry about.”

“Keep me posted. I’m worried about her. She’s a pretty great lady, that mom of yours.”

Olivia shifted, uncomfortable as she always was when others spoke about her mother to her. Everyone loved her, with good reason. Juliet was warm, gracious, kind to just about everyone in their beachside community of Cape Sanctuary.

Which made Olivia’s own awkward, tangled relationship with her mother even harder to comprehend.

“Will you be able to come home for a few days?”

Home. How could she go home when she couldn’t even walk into the coffee shop across the street?

“I don’t know. I’ll have to see what’s going on there.”

How could she possibly travel all the way to Northern California? A complicated mix of emotions seemed to lodge like a tangled ball of yarn in her chest whenever she thought about her hometown, which she loved and hated in equal measures.

The town held so much guilt and pain and sorrow. Her father was buried there and so was her sister. Each room in Sea Glass Cottage stirred like the swirl of dust motes with memories of happier times.

Olivia hadn’t been back in more than a year. She kept meaning to make a trip but something else always seemed to come up. She usually went for the holidays at least, but the previous year she’d backed out of even that after work obligations kept her in Seattle until Christmas Eve and a storm had made last-minute travel difficult. She had spent the holiday with friends instead of with her mother and Caitlin and had felt guilty that she had enjoyed it much more than the previous few when she had gone home.

She couldn’t avoid it now, though. A trip back to Cape Sanctuary was long overdue, especially if her mother needed her.

  1. What made you write this story? (The “story behind the story”)

That’s a very long “story behind the story”! My husband of 34 years was adopted at birth to a wonderful loving famiy and never knew anything about his birth parents. He was never really interested, though I always wondered. He took a DNA test a few years ago before going in for a major surgery, just out of curiosity so our kids could know something about his ethnic heritage, and was astonished a few months later when results from Ancestry.com came in linking him to several close relatives on his maternal side. He wasn’t going to do anything about it but through a very strange sequence of events, he eventually connected with three half-brothers, an aunt and several uncles (including one who has been our neighbor and friend for more than twenty years without either us knowing the connection!). Unfortunately, my husband’s birth mother died several years ago so he never had the chance to meet her but my husband now has a wonderful relationship with his brothers, who have embraced and welcomed him. I have heard of these kind of stories before and after living through the amazing results from a simple DNA test, I wanted to write about someone trying to trace her father. That’s one of the underlying subplots to THE SEA GLASS COTTAGE.

  1. Which character do you most relate to in the story and why?

I love all of them but probably am most drawn to Juliet, who yearns for those she loves to be happy. That’s a universal mom need, I think.  Also, she hesitates to lean on others even when she really needs the help because she doesn’t want to be a burden and feels as if her role is to caretake those she loves instead of the other way around. I can definitely relate to this one!

  1. Do you have a place you go to in order to clear your head like Olivia did?

I don’t live by the ocean, unfortunately, but I do live in the mountains of Utah. Ten minutes from my home, I can be in a gorgeous wilderness area where I can walk and think and meditate. We are heading into the most beautiful time of year here, where the mountains turn green with new growth and wildflowers begin to pop out. I can’t wait! 

  1. Is this based on a real place?

Cape Sanctuary is kind of an amalgamation of some of my favorite spots along the Pacific coast, a mix of Carmel, California and Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s loosely based near Trinidad, California. I only wish it really existed!

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I started out in journalism in high school and discovered I loved telling stories. After graduating in journalism, I spent ten years at a daily newspaper as a reporter and editor but dreamed of writing a romance novel some day. When I was on maternity leave with our oldest (who is now 30!), I started my first book. It took me about 5 years of tinkering with it, dealing with rejections, rewriting and starting something new before I sold my first two books to Bantam Loveswept in 1995. I’ve been writing full time since 1997 when our second child was born. The Sea Glass Cottage is my 63rd book. I get a little overwhelmed when I think about all those words!

  1. What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Like all my books, the core story is that we’re all here to learn how to take care of each other. All my books have the underlying theme that our lives become better and more fulfilling when we reach out to help and lift someone else. The world can sometimes feel ugly and angry. I feel like there’s an increasing need for us all to focus on trying a little harder to be kind. Life is filled with pain and trials but it can also be beautiful and joyful at the same time.

  1. What drew you into this particular genre?

I still consider all my books romance novels at heart because that is the genre I have adored since I was eleven years old. My books will always have some kind of love story in them! But my hardcovers also have provided a wonderful chance to explore deeper relationship issues: Healing a rift between a mother and a daughter, finding peace when a relationship with a sister ended in tragedy, finding common ground between an aunt and a niece. 

  1. If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I would probably ask Juliet why she kept so many secrets from those who might have been able to help her deal better with the challenges she faces.

  1. What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

Right new I think it’s a close tie between Facebook and Instagram, probably weighted a little more to Facebook. I don’t use Twitter much.

  1. What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Focus on the emotions you want your readers to feel in your stories. Readers love finding authors who can carry them away with their storytelling, making them feel what the characters feel. They want that emotional ride! Find the kind of stories you love to tell, focus on your strengths and constantly keep stretching yourself in new directions. 

  1. What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

Yes! Always ☺ The last book in my Haven Point series, SUMMER AT LAKE HAVEN, comes out June 23. This is Samantha Fremont’s book, for those who have read others in the series. It also includes a surprise novella. Next up will be a standalone Christmas book in an all-new community, Silver Bells, Colorado. CHRISTMAS AT HOLIDAY HOUSE will be out in late September. And I recently spent three days at a California beach house with writer friends plotting my next hardcover and can’t wait to start writing it! THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE (tentative title!) will also be set in Cape Sanctuary and will be out April 2021.

  1. Where is your favorite place to write?

I am the luckiest of writers because I have my own office. Several years ago, we made the impulsive decision to buy the house adjacent to ours. It was rundown and unsightly and kind of blighted the view from our backyard. Our plan was to fix it up to increase our own property value and then rent it out but after the renovation, I loved it too much to rent it out so I took it over. I have loved it! With a special needs son who has multiple disabilities and requires total care, life at my house is at times chaotic and messy but I always have such a sense of peace and calm when I go to my office. And I love that I can walk through the backyard in my jammies to go to work.

  1. What do you like best about your new book?

I love the peace and healing that came to the characters from being honest with their loved ones and opening their hearts to second chances.

  1. Do you have a favorite character in The Sea Glass Cottage?

This is a hard question because all my characters become cherished friends when I’m writing a book and I love them all but I really adore Henry. He is just an amazing hero for Juliet ☺

  1. What inspired you to become a writer?

I have been a voracious reader all my life and have loved romance novels since I used to steal them out of my mom’s room when I was still a preadolescent! I always used to tell stories to my friends, usually involving our latest celebrity crushes. I didn’t know I was destined to become a writer at the time but when I look back, I see all the things that set me on the path. I actually wanted to be an actress and was very involved in drama in high school, including performing in a repertory theater company, but my mom persuaded me to take a journalism class my junior year and I fell in love with telling stories. Even as I went into journalism through college and my subsequent career as a reporter and editor, I dreamed of writing a romance novel. I never imagined some day I could say I’ve written sixty-something of them!

New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

Social Links:

Author Website| Twitter: @RaeAnneThayne | Facebook: AuthorRaeAnneThayne | Instagram: @RaeAnneThayne | Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/116118.RaeAnne_Thayne

Probiatis by Alyssa Ann – Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: Independently Published

Publication Date: September 21, 2019

Genre: Fantasy, Super Powers

Goodreads | Amazon

I am so excited to feature and give y’all an excerpt of this gorgeous book! It sounds so good! I love books about secret societies and super powers! How cool! Plus it is written by two indie authors! I love supporting indie authors!

“When an underground society of gifted individuals is handed the keys to defeating their enemy, a war for the ages ensues. While many dream of having superpowers, this group finds that their exceptional abilities may prove too great a burden to bear. With the help of her younger sister and childhood best friend, Emerald Stark struggles to accept her place at the center of a war she’s not sure she can win.”

A strange smile slowly comes across his sallow face, like he’s glad Emeral chose to not go with him or run, yet sorry for her at the same time.

“I didn’t say my name, but that’s not really the name you’re looking for, now is it? Think about it deep down, you already know. Probably your biggest feat coming to life. I am an operative for an organization known as the Arcane. They specialize in extracting people with your skill set from society. We have a special type of appreciation for your ability, as you probably know by now.”

The feat Emerald pushed aside for a moment find its place, and her confidence is melting away. The Arcane. They know, and they’ve come for me, she thinks. Somewhere in a corner of her mind, she reminds herself that she has prepared for this. She always knew somewhere inside her that this was a possibility, and that’s why she started the defensive fighting classes. This is what she was preparing for. She can do this.

While working on this novel, Alyssa graduated with a bachelor’s in Psychology and went on to get a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. She currently lives in New Mexico with her husband, Jared, and their newest addition, daughter, Zoey.

Alongside a career in nutrition and fitness, Ann spends her days chasing three little girls around a cattle ranch in Northeastern New Mexico with her husband, Casey. What started as a fun project for sisters-in-law turned into a co-author match mad in heaven! Ann and Alyssa are thrilled to present their first novel to you, the readers.

This book sounds so good, y’all! I can’t wait to read it! Let’s spread the love, what are some of your favorite Indie books?

Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara – Excerpt and Q&A

Publisher: Mira Books

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Buy Links:

Harlequin | Indiebound | Amazon| Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Target | Walmart | Google | iBooks | Kobo

I am very excited to feature Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara! I am a little behind on the series but I’ve read some of them and LOVE these books. They’re so cool! They would make a great TV show. Check out the Excerpt and Author Q&A below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

“In the aftermath of the events in the High Halls, there are loose ends. One of those loose ends is the fieflord, Candallar. In an attempt to understand his involvement—with the Barrani, with the High Court, and with the much hated Arcanum—Kaylin has been sent to the fiefs.

She has mixed feelings about this. There’s nothing mixed about her feelings when she discovers a very unusual building in the border zone between two fiefs, and far more questions are raised than are answered. Her attempt to get answers leads her back to the Imperial Palace and its resident Dragon librarian, the Arkon.

Things that were lost in the dim past were not, perhaps, destroyed or obliterated—and what remains appears to be in the hands of a fieflord and his allies—allies who would like to destroy Kaylin’s friends, the Emperor, and possibly the Barrani High Court itself. This is bad.

What’s worse: The librarian who hates to leave his library has a very strong interest in the things that might, just might, have been preserved, and—he is leaving his library to do in person research, no matter what Kaylin, the Hawks, or the Emperor think.

He is not the only one. Other people are gathering in the border zone; people who believe knowledge is power. But power is also power, and it might be too late for the Empire’s most dedicated Historian—and Kaylin and her friends, who’ve been tasked with his safety.”

Q&A with Michelle Sagara

Q: Your Chronicles of Elantra series is 15 books deep. How do you keep up with the characters and the plot? What do your notes look like?

A: I have a wiki that is not online, and I attempt to keep it updated as I write. This is not always as easy or tidy as it sounds. The wiki (I use VoodooPad) is easily searchable, but I have to remember to search it, and sometimes I don’t.

I am not a visual person, at all. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I had known my husband for years, and it wasn’t until someone in the store asked what color his eyes were that I realized I didn’t know. Since he’s blond (Finnish on his mother’s side), I assumed that they were blue, and after some thought said, “probably blue”, which caused mild confusion. Had I not known my husband for years? I went home and this time looked and paid attention to what I was seeing: they were blue.

Because eye color had not–obviously–been of great import to me, eye color was the start of my note-keeping. I needed to try to track eye color of characters because I knew I’d forget. And… I still got it wrong between books. T_T.

But… the internals of the characters–what they want, where they’ve come from, the experiences that produced them, I viscerally know. Height? No, not really. Shape? Well, I remember which ones are human, Barrani, Dragon, Tha’alani, etc. Hates? Likes? Yes. Goals as well, if they have them. I remember their place in the hierarchies they occupy, because in some ways, that’s part of their interior makeup.

But sometimes, when in the flow of the words, I… don’t remember to go and check the wiki for the details that, in the moment of writing, aren’t important to me.

My notes, however, and all cross-linked to each other, because of the wiki format.

Q: What kind of research do you do for your books? Is it mandatory (for you) for all your books?

A: It’s very much on a book-by-book basis. At this point in the writing, most of the research is… all the previous books. 

I have had books which are more research intensive, but in general I read history in bits and pieces, and file away what I’ve read. It becomes part of the mental soil from which books grow. 

So, there are specific books in which I realized, as I was writing, that I didn’t know something that I needed to know, and that stopped the writing dead as I then attempted to find answers to the questions that arose from my own ignorance. I think, as I get older, I realize far more easily when I don’t know something and need to know it.

But I’m what’s generally called a pantser. I don’t have a plan when I start; I usually only have the ending. To know exactly what I don’t know and need to know is therefore not entirely predictable. 

…and I admit that once I’ve started building bits and pieces of world, I become increasingly impatient because I just want to dive in and start writing. So sometimes I start, write, and then stop because something a specific character would know, I don’t know. And then I set the book aside and start to look at things.

I think it’s important to know what my characters know, or at least what my viewpoint characters know.

Q: What is it about fantasy that makes you love it above any other genre?

A: This is a harder question to answer, because it’s so specific; it’s entirely Michelle-context. Does that context overlap with other readers? Yes. But not all of it, and not simultaneously.

I’m a product of my culture, my reading culture, and my linguistic limitations; I speak only English, and can only read French with a fifty percent chance of understanding it.

So: books I read and loved when young had fantasy elements, were fantasy. I read a lot of fairy tales. Anything I could get my hands on. Portal fantasy like the Narnia books. Fantasy like McKillip’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Fantasy like The Hobbit, and eventually, Lord of the Rings. 

I also read a lot of mythology books–at first for kids, and later, translations of plays and sagas that hadn’t been written with children in mind.

I read other books, books without fantasy elements, growing up–but the things that spoke to me most strongly were those. They were the books of my developing reader heart. As I traversed the divide between childhood and not-childhood (does anyone truly ever feel adult on the inside of their own head? I always feel like I’ve gotten better at performing adulthood, but I can’t quite feel it as my base state), I found other fantasy. I also found books like The Left Hand of Darkness

And all of the reading overlapped with life experiences; everything on the inside of my head, like the soil out of which story grows and evolves.

I loved fantasy as a reader. I loved reading as a reader. When I made the choice to start writing, I wrote what I loved. 

Q: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing?

A: I cannot actually answer that question, because I have always written. From about six years of age, on. I didn’t write for other people, and I hid all my writing because I didn’t want to open it up to judgement and criticism. 

If you mean, what would I do to make money, I’m not sure. Work, yes–but I’m not sure doing what. I didn’t expect, growing up, that my work would be my life; a job was a necessity, because having a roof over one’s head and food on the table was a necessity. I didn’t therefore pursue a career about which I could be passionate until I started to write for submission.

If I worked for someone else for a living, I would still write, because I always did. Would I write as often or as consistently? Probably not. There were gap months in university in which I didn’t write at all. But I always came back to it because writing words was an act of communication.

How, if I didn’t share them?

Good question. It was an act of communication with myself. It was a way of seeing, more clearly, things I believed or things that moved me, that I had not fully processed or pragmatically understood.

It was also like an exorcism: I put these words down so that they didn’t envelop and overwhelm the rest of my thoughts.

Q: What is the most difficult thing about your writing process?

A: The answer will depend entirely on when the question is asked, sadly.

If, for instance, I’m starting a new book, the answer will be: beginnings. I start a book several times, trying to find the right tone, the right voice. The longest not right attempt at a beginning was thirty-two pages. Most peter out at between four and six. 

At the moment, I’m revising, so the answer is: Revision.

Writing, once I have a beginning, is about flow. The story is like a river; I can follow it. I can swim in it. I can drown in it if I don’t remember to come up for air. But the entirety of the book flows from beginning to end. I don’t write out of order. I don’t write to an outline. Part of writing, or the joy of it, is in the discovery. I have an idea of where things are going and how they’ll get there, but the act of writing the book produces a lot – sometimes a LOT – of surprises.

What I know is the end. I understand the world. I don’t know how the characters will reach the end from the beginning, because even when I do know, I’m often wrong.

So, I now have a finished book. I revise it for submission–but I’m aware that I’m too close to it, and that my editor is going to be reading it and pointing out the parts that didn’t work for her. 

Here’s the trick to editing: editors read as readers. Their editorial experience gives them the abililty to explain why they had the reader reaction they did. I’m not going to argue about the editor’s reaction to the book. Even if I disagree with it, what am I going to say? No you didn’t react that way? Clearly, they did.

What I can do is examine why the scene didn’t work for the editor. Why it wasn’t compelling enough or believeable enough. If I want to keep that scene in this book, I have work to do.

But. Revision requires–for me–an entirely different frame of mind. It’s more objective; objectivity is required for me to assess structure and structural changes. Subjectivity is required for me – and let me take this moment to stress that all writers have different processes and I’m talking about only mine – to write.

And I can get caught up between the two states, until I can’t tell what’s objective and what’s subjective.

The corollary to that is that the book is a metaphoric river, and it is very difficult to restructure a river. I can’t just cut out one part and move it to another part if the terrain and the riverbed are not substantially the same for the two parts.

Which means I frequently end up having to take a chapter which mostly works and throw the entire thing out and start it again because I can see the seams in the revision if I don’t. 

Q: Finally, what do you want readers to leave with after finishing your books?

A: I write books because reading books moved me. A lot. I could get lost in a book, sink into it, follow it, think about it, daydream about it. 

Parts of that were intellectual, but the drive to be intellectual about a book I’d read came from a strong emotional response to it. What I want readers to leave with is the emotional response to the story and characters I had, and built, while writing it. I want to open a window into what the book made me feel as the writer.

Writing story is, in some ways, building a vessel that is solid enough to carry the emotional weight of the ending.

“You are such a coward,” Bellusdeo said when they’d reached the relative safety of the street. The roads in and around Helen were sparsely populated at the busiest of times, which this wasn’t. They would soon join roads that were crowded at the slowest of times, but Kaylin was dressed for the office. The Hawk emblazoned on her tabard encouraged people to make space. 

Had Bellusdeo hit the streets in her Draconic form, she’d have cleared far more of it—but some of that space would be created by panic, and panic could cause both accidents and the type of traffic congestion that caused the Swords to investigate. Also, it was illegal. 

“It’s not cowardice,” Kaylin replied, scanning the windows of the buildings above ground level. 

“What would you call it?” 

“Wisdom.” 

“Oh, please.”

“There’s no point in arguing with them now. Sedarias thinks it’ll be months before this ridiculous command performance occurs. We have months to attempt to talk her out of—” 

“Out of expressing any appreciation or gratitude?” 

Ugh. “You know they’re grateful. This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about rubbing that gratitude in the faces of the Barrani who attempted to brand you a—an army. An attacking army.” 

“I believe the term you want is Flight.” Bellusdeo’s eyes were orange. 

Hope squawked at the Dragon. Kaylin didn’t understand what he was saying. Bellusdeo did, but her eyes didn’t get any lighter. 

“You know as well as I do,” Kaylin said, emboldened by Hope’s entry into the discussion, “that this is not the time to visit the High Halls. I’m not sure the Emperor has ever been a guest there.” 

“We visited the Halls—more or less—when they came under attack, and the Barrani needed our help.” 

“From the outside. No one invited the Dragon Court in.” 

The chorus of Barrani voices that sometimes offered entirely unasked for opinions on the inside of her head maintained their silence for half a beat. The first person to break that silence was the fieflord. His words were tinged with amusement. 

You cannot expect that the cohort would suddenly cease to cause any difficulty, surely? 

I’m almost certain that the cohort understands why inviting a Dragon—any Dragon—to attend the High Halls would be a disaster. 

For the Dragons? 

For everyone. 

I believe some of the more conservative High Lords might be surprisingly supportive of such an invitation. 

Of course they would. It would be their best shot at killing Bellusdeo. If Bellusdeo died, there would be no new Dragons. No hatchlings. 

There’s no way the Emperor would give her permission to attend. 

Nightshade concurred. In his position, I would not. But I would be prepared, should I refuse to grant that permission, for all-out war. My brother has grown inordinately fond of her; living with you has made him reckless. 

He’s not— 

He has known Bellusdeo for even less time than you. He is willing to trust her in a fashion no one older would. And do not cite the Consort, please. 

Kaylin hadn’t intended to. The Consort seems to like her. 

Kaylin, the Consort “likes” me. But she does not trust me. 

She does. 

“Stop making that face, or it will freeze that way.” Kaylin reddened. 

I understand that you are attempting to avoid the Emperor’s ire. I consider this wise on your part. It is not, however, the ire of the Emperor that will be your most significant problem; he will do nothing to harm Bellusdeo. 

I know that. 

It is the ire of the High Lords. Sedarias is, I believe, genuinely grateful for Bellusdeo’s intervention. She does wish to honor her. But gratitude can be expressed privately—and in most cases, it is. Only rulers feel obliged to make that expression public because the public expression elevates those to whom one feels gratitude. It makes clear to witnesses that the aid tendered—in whatever fashion—is important and significant. The Emperor has codified such significance in public ceremonies and public titles, has he not? 

Kaylin shrugged. 

For Sedarias, however, genuine gratitude is not an impediment to political displays. She can be genuinely grateful and simultaneously, extremely political. She wishes to highlight Bellusdeo’s aid and import to Mellarionne. Why do you think this is? 

Kaylin thought about this. After a long pause, she said, She wants to thumb her nose at the rest of the High Lords, many of whom weren’t helpful at all? 

Nightshade’s silence was one of encouragement. 

Bellusdeo’s a Dragon. So…her presence means that even Dragons—with whom you’ve had a war or two— 

Three. 

Fine, a war or three, were more helpful, or at least more of a genuine ally, than any of the Barrani. 

Yes. I believe that is some part of Sedarias’s intent. That’s not going to help Mellarionne any. 

Perhaps, perhaps not. She will do so as An’Mellarionne. It would be considered a very bold move—but there are those who would assume that Sedarias is confident in her own power, and they would hesitate to challenge her. 

“If you are speaking about me,” Bellusdeo said, her voice almost a whisper of sound, “I must insist that you include me.” 

Hope squawked. 

“Well, yes, that could cause some difficulty,” the Dragon replied. “But I dislike Kaylin’s worry. She is mortal.” Squawk. “The marks of the Chosen don’t matter. She’s mortal. I may be a displaced person in these lands; I may no longer have a home or lands of my own. But I am a Dragon.” 

“I’m not exactly worried about you,” Kaylin said. When one golden brow rose in response, she added, “Not about you specifically. But—there’s no way for Dragon and High Halls to combine that isn’t political. Explosively political. On your own, you can survive more than any of the rest of the cohort—or me. But you won’t be on your own. The cohort won’t abandon you.” 

It was the Dragon’s turn to snort. 

Kaylin reconsidered her words and chose better ones. “Most of the cohort wouldn’t abandon you. Annarion wouldn’t. Mandoran wouldn’t. I don’t believe Allaron would either, from what I’ve seen. And you know what the cohort is like. The minute one of them enters combat to save you, they’re all going to rush in. It doesn’t matter if they’re there for your sake or their friends’; they’ll be there. But this is political, and anything political is far above my pay grade.” 

“You don’t seem to find this insulting.” 

“I consider it one of the biggest advantages of my rank. Which is the lowest rank I could be given and still be called a Hawk.” 

“One of? What’s another one?” 

“I’m not in command. I don’t need to make decisions that might cost the lives of other Hawks. No matter what happens in an action, large or small, I won’t have their deaths on my hands.” 

“But you don’t like being a private.” 

“Well, I could be a corporal, and it would still be mostly true. And the pay is higher.” 

“It’s not much higher,” a familiar voice said. It was Mandoran’s. Of course it was. Kaylin didn’t miss a step. 

“I don’t suggest you try to enter the Halls of Law looking like that.” 

“Like what?” 

“Like thin air.” 

“Oh. That.” Mandoran caused other people some consternation as he materialized to the side of Kaylin that Bellusdeo wasn’t occupying. To be fair, most of the street didn’t notice; people always had their own problems and their own schedules. “I was going to follow Teela into the office, but Teela’s not heading there directly.” 

“So you followed us?” 

“Not most of the way, no. I decided to head straight here to wait, but I caught up because you’re doing the Hawk-walk.” He glanced at Bellusdeo. “For what it’s worth, I think insisting on your presence on the inside of the High Halls is suicidal.” 

“Oh?” The Dragon’s voice was cool. “For who?” 

Mandoran grinned. “Mostly Kaylin.” 

Kaylin watched as flecks of gold appeared in Bellusdeo’s eyes. Mandoran had, once again, managed to set Bellusdeo at ease. Kaylin wondered if that was why he’d chosen to speak when he had. He never treated the Dragon with respect; had the Emperor been present for most of their spats, she wasn’t certain Mandoran wouldn’t be a pile of bleeding ash. Well, ash, because ash didn’t bleed, but still. 

“You left the rest of the cohort behind?” Kaylin asked. 

“We had a vote, and Helen decided it was safest to send me.” 

“She was the tie-breaker?” 

“Ah, no. She didn’t consider the first choice viable. But— we can all see what I see anyway, so unless there’s an attack, having more than one person here is superfluous. If Teela had been coming directly to the office, someone would have followed Teela.” 

“Not you?” Bellusdeo asked. 

“I had to live with Tain for a few years. Compressed into a few weeks, I might add. He’s stuffy and remarkably straightforward. Also, he hates fun.” 

“He hates mess,” Kaylin said, as they approached the stairs that led into the Halls of Law. 

“Define mess. No, wait, don’t. The problem with Tain—at least for me—is that Teela might actually kill us if we’re indirectly responsible for his death. He’s not like the rest of us; we can’t speak to him without shouting, and even if we can, he doesn’t listen half the time. So…it’s a lot less safe to tail Tain.” 

“I imagine it’s safer to tail Tain than it is to tail Kaylin if you’re worried about Teela’s reaction,” Bellusdeo said, frowning slightly. 

“You need a better imagination.”

Excerpted from Cast In Wisdom by Michelle Sagara, Copyright © 2020 by Michelle Sagara. Published by MIRA Books.

Michelle Sagara is an author, bookseller, and lover of literature based in Toronto. She writes fantasy novels and lives with her husband and her two children, and to her regret has no dogs. Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is sometimes paid for her opinions about what she’s read by the venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many bookshelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – Feature, Excerpt and Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

Buy Links:

Harlequin| Amazon| Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million| IndieBound| Apple Books| Kobo| Google Play

I am so excited to feature A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen today on my blog! Plus a few extras to go along with it! Check out an excerpt and a Q&A with the author below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.

Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.”

Q: Parent characters are a large part of A Beginning at the End. Did you know your character’s family backgrounds before you began? How do the characters take form in your writing process?

A: Somewhat. Usually the core problem comes first in my drafting process. I tend to write in layers and my initial drafts are always very light — initial scenes may only be about ¼ of their final length because I don’t know the characters too well yet. At that stage, I’m trying to find the main conflict of the scene and the voice for their characters. I typically need 5-7 passes through a book to turn it from a 45k-50k word skeleton to a reasonably polished 90-100k word draft. During that time, the characters start to form.

As an example, my current work in progress (which will be released after 2021’s upcoming WE COULD BE HEROES), I’m on my third pass through for the first act and only now am I beginning to understand each character’s unique voice as well as their physical appearances. Core conflicts (such as character X has trouble with character Y) are established during the initial outline phase as part of the initial concept, but the how and why those conflicts happen (Is it family history? Is it a traumatic event? Is it sibling rivalry?), that takes a little longer to establish. 

For the characters in A BEGINNING AT THE END, I started out immediately knowing what drove Krista and Rob. Moira didn’t really become fully three-dimensional until much later, and in fact in early revisions, she was just a minor supporting character. My agent noted that she was far too interesting to push to the side, so the book was rebuilt around her to hold equal footing to Rob and Krista.

Q: Where did you take inspiration for this pandemic? Do you have any other book or film recommendations?

A: Though it wasn’t a direct inspiration for this book, there’s a scene in the second season of The Walking Dead that began the train of thought for A BEGINNING AT THE END. It was the season on Hershel’s farm, and there’s a scene where Lori is trying to go over homework with her son Carl. A lot of viewers mocked the scene at the time with comments like “Why would you do math in the zombie apocalypse?” but I thought that was a smart bit of human grounding against a fantastical backdrop. Because those characters didn’t know if and when the apocalypse would end, and I think it makes sense that 1) a mom would try to keep some form of normalcy for her son 2) they wouldn’t just assume the world was completely over.

Because a lot of apocalyptic fiction focuses on either the event itself or a grimdark survival world, that scene sparked a lot of ideas for me — what if society did crawl back from the brink, and instead of a true “end of the world” it was more like a big pause button? Then all these people would move past day-to-day survival and suddenly have a lot of trauma to unpack, and i hadn’t really seen that covered much at the time. That seemed really interesting to me, much more so than the idea of tribal factions attacking each other to survive.

Q: Which main character is your favorite? And which was the hardest to write?

A: It’s been interesting seeing early reader feedback because the “favorite character” opinion has been pretty evenly split. I think that’s a good sign that things are pretty balanced. For me personally, I always viewed Krista as the main character in this book and it was originally written with her to be the main focus (the original draft of this from 2011ish only had her POV and Rob’s POV). She has such a snappy voice that it’s just fun to write her responses and reactions to stuff, and a big challenge came from cutting out unnecessary dialogue that made it in there simply because she was so fun to write.

The hardest character to write was definitely Sunny. Simply because I needed to get into the head of a seven-year-old. Her POV was one of the last major structural changes my agent recommended before we sold this to my publisher and it was tricky my daughter was still very young at that point (she’s still only five). I ran those chapters by my friends who had survived parenting those years for accuracy: complexity of thought, vocabulary, rhythm, etc.

Q: Your characters struggle with confronting their past while their future is so uncertain. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a writer that you previously struggled with?

A: I think the keys to success as a writer are also keys to a happy and fulfilled life: don’t give up and keep an open mind. Every writer I know that started around my time eventually broke through and got an agent by improving their craft through feedback and simply chipping away. If one book wasn’t good enough, then it got shelved as a stepping stone and they marched forward. Doing that requires a certain amount of humility because it recognizes that you’ve got room to improve, and that improvement is going to come from listening to others rather than being defensive. Those are hard lessons to learn so I try to tell new writers that right away, so they understand the value of harsh-but-true constructive criticism from critique partners — you’ll never make it without that.

Q: What is a genre you don’t think you’d ever write? A Beginning at the End and Here and Now and Then are both SF, do you think you would ever write something that’s vastly different? What draws you to SF?

A: Writing character-driven stories in sci-fi settings comes pretty naturally to me, as it takes my favorite type of story (slice of life) and my favorite genre and brings them together. I’m fortunate that the market has turned around on that now to support books like mine. If I wrote something different, I imagine it would lean further in one direction or another — either a contemporary drama or space opera. I am also a big fan of gothic horror, and I would love to try a haunted house story at some point.

As for what draws me to sci-fi, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s been really important to me my entire life. I grew up on Star Wars and Robotech as cornerstones of my media influences. At the same time, I’ve never really been too into fantasy despite them often being opposite sides of the same coin. My wife loves both sci-fi and fantasy, and there are things she loves that I just can’t get into like The Elder Scrolls.

Q: What are some of your writing goals for the future?

A: Keep writing and not run out of ideas! In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to be a full-time author — which is basically 50% writing and 50% the business of being an author. I don’t think that’s feasible since I live in Silicon Valley and need health insurance for a family situation, so I will likely always have one foot in corporate life unless the political landscape changes regarding medical care.

An obvious dream would be to have one of my books be adapted to a movie or TV series — I’m of the mindset that HERE AND NOW AND THEM would work as a movie while A BEGINNING AT THE END has a deep enough world that it would work well as a TV series. I really want to try writing a video game, something like Telltale’s games. And I would love to write for my favorite franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I’ve been pretty vocal about Clone Wars-era story ideas, and I’m friends with several authors on the Lucasfilm roster, so fingers crossed.

Q: If there was a global disaster in the future, what would your plan of action be?

A: Well, I have a bunch of animals and family health issues, so I’d say we’d be pretty screwed. I’m pretty organized and have a diplomatic approach, so hopefully that would earn me an in with some survivalists until society stabilizes.

Q: Both of your books, Here and Now and Then & A Beginning at the End, have a strong emotional foundation. Why did you choose that route?

A: It goes back to my favorite types of stories. To me, the emotional core is always the most important part of any story; it turns it from being surface level entertainment to something that resonates deeper.

Q: How has the success of your first novel affected your writing process for your second novel? Is there anything the first time around you did, that you didn’t do the second time?

A: I am lucky that A BEGINNING AT THE END was mostly finished when we sold it because it had been a project I’d shelved years ago but revised with my agent. I had a complete and fairly polished manuscript, and my editors revisions didn’t affect much of the structure, they were mostly about tightening and adding more flashbacks, more world-building. So in that regard, that process was very similar to HERE AND NOW AND THEN.

However, having now experienced deadlines and commitments on top of a day job and parenting, the biggest change is that I draft by acts rather than the whole thing. For books 3 (WE COULD BE HEROES) and 4 (in WIP stages), I drafted a first act to get a sense of characters and world, then sent that to a few critique partners for their input before investing further energy into it. There’s just no time. Also, I have to limit myself on reading for fun or video games because that time has to be used for writing and editing. Being published is a great privilege but its time demands do create numerous sacrifices.

Q: How do you balance being a reader and being a writer? 

A: I use my phone a lot! I’ve discovered audiobooks, though my preferred method right now is ebooks through Google Play. Their app has a text-to-speech feature which, while nowhere near the quality of real audiobooks, allow me to listen while I’m commuting or doing dishes or whatever, but then also allow me to switch back to reading in the app when I want to. It’s funny, I just don’t read physical books that much now because my time is so compartmentalized that having it available on my phone is the best way to go. 

The great irony about this is that as I’ve gotten to know more authors, agents, and editors, I’m often offered advance review copies by authors I really love and I simply have no time for them.

Q: What does literary success look like to you and with that definition in mind, are you successful? 

A: This is tricky because I think all authors at all stages are looking up at someone and mentally comparing sales and awards. I know I’m doing better than some of my peers and worse than others, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that it is totally okay to be happy for someone while also jealous of their success. In fact, that is 100% normal.

With that in mind, I think success means that I’m selling enough copies to get the next contract and a chance to audition for licensed franchise work. Aspiring for bestseller status or awards is kind of silly because so many other factors go into that, many of which (marketing budgets, publicity selections) are simply out of your control. But if you keep producing at a high level of quality, I think you’ll be able to gradually grow your readership with each book, and that’s good enough for me.

Also, it’s really cool to hear your book has touched a reader. That level of engagement is always a good measure of success. 

Q: Finally, for you, what makes a book a good book?

A: I think the things that I always look for are interesting characters, emotional conflicts, and good prose. While I appreciate great action scenes or immense worldbuilding, I can often overlook those things if characters, emotions, and prose are all clicking. On the other hand, if I lose any of those main three, I’ll often have to drop a book, even if, say, the worldbuilding is amazing.

Shameless shoutout to some friends: if you want impeccable examples of ALL of those (characters, emotions, prose, action, and worldbuilding), I suggest Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY / JADE WAR and Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS.

Prologue

People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.Excerpted from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

The Little Bookshop on the Seine (The Little Paris Collection, #1) by Rebecca Raisin – Book Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: HQN

Publication Date: January 07, 2020 (Originally published Oct. 16, 2015)

Genre: Romance, Fiction, Contemporary

Buy Links: Harlequin |Indiebound |Amazon|Barnes & Noble |Books-A-Million|Target |Walmart|Google|iBooks|Kobo

I am very excited to share an excerpt from The Little Bookshop on the Seine! A book about love and books in Paris is my kind of read! Hope you enjoy!

It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true. “

CHAPTER ONE

October 

With a heavy heart I placed the sign in the display window. 

All books 50% off. 

If things didn’t pick up soon, it would read Closing down sale. The thought alone was enough to make me shiver. The autumnal sky was awash with purples and smudges of orange, as I stepped outside to survey the display window from the sidewalk. 

Star-shaped leaves crunched underfoot. I forced a smile. A sale wouldn’t hurt, and maybe it’d take the bookshop figures from the red into the black—which I so desperately needed. My rent had been hiked up. The owner of the building, a sharp-featured, silver-tongued, forty-something man, had put the pressure on me lately—to pay more, to declutter the shop, claiming the haphazard stacks of books were a fire risk. The additional rent stretched the budget to breaking level. Something had to change.

The phone shrilled, and a grin split my face. It could only be Ridge at this time of the morning. Even after being together almost a year his name still provoked a giggle. It suited him though, the veritable man mountain he was. I’d since met his mom, a sweet, well-spoken lady, who claimed in dulcet tones, that she chose his name well before his famous namesake in The Bold and the Beautiful. In fact, she was adamant about it, and said the TV character Ridge was no match for her son. I had to agree. Sure, they both had chiseled movie star cheekbones, and an intense gaze that made many a woman swoon, but my guy was more than just the sum of his parts—I loved him for his mind, as much as his clichéd six-pack, and broody hotness. And even better, he loved me for me.

He was the hero in my own real-life love story, and due back from Canada the next day. It’d been weeks since I’d seen him, and I ached for him in a way that made me blush.

I dashed inside, and answered the phone, breathlessly. “The Bookshop on the Corner.”

“That’s the voice I know and love,” he said in his rich, husky tone. My heart fluttered, picturing him at the end of the line, his jet-black hair and flirty blue eyes. He simply had to flick me a look loaded with suggestion, and I’d be jelly-legged and lovestruck.

“What are you wearing?” he said.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I held back a laugh, eager to drag it out. So far our relationship had been more long-distance than anticipated, as he flew around the world reporting on location. The stints apart left an ache in my heart, a numbness to my days. Luckily I had my books, and a sweeping romance or two helped keep the loneliness at bay.

“Tell me or I’ll be forced to Skype you and see for myself.”

Glancing down at my outfit, I grimaced: black tights, a black pencil skirt, and a pilled blue knit sweater, all as old as the hills of Ashford. Not exactly the type of answer Ridge was waiting for, or the way I wanted him to picture me, after so many weeks apart. “Those stockings you like, and…”

His voice returned with a growl. “Those stockings? With the little suspenders?”

I sat back into the chair behind the counter, fussing with my bangs. “The very same.”

He groaned. “You’re killing me. Take a photo…”

“There’s no need. If you’re good, I’ll wear the red ones tomorrow night.” I grinned wickedly. Our reunions were always passionate affairs; he was a hands-on type of guy. Lucky for him, because it took a certain type of man to drag me from the pages of my books. When he was home we didn’t surface until one of us had to go to work. Loving Ridge had been a revelation, especially in the bedroom, where he took things achingly slow, drawing out every second. I flushed with desire for him.

There was a muffled voice and the low buzz of phones ringing. Ridge mumbled to someone before saying, “About tomorrow…” He petered out, regret in each syllable.

I closed my eyes. “You’re not coming, are you?” I tried not to sigh, but it spilled out regardless. The lure of a bigger, better story was too much for him to resist, and lately the gaps between our visits grew wider. I understood his work was important, but I wanted him all to myself. A permanent fixture in the small town I lived in.

He tutted. “I’m sorry, baby. There’s a story breaking in

Indonesia, and I have to go. It’ll only be for a week or two, and then I’ll take some time off.”

Outside, leaves fluttered slowly from the oak tree, swaying softly, until they fell to the ground. I wasn’t the nagging girlfriend sort—times like this though, I was tempted to be. Ridge had said the very same thing the last three times he’d canceled a visit. But invariably someone would call and ask Ridge to head to the next location; any time off would be cut short.

“I understand,” I said, trying to keep my voice bright. Sometimes I felt like I played a never-ending waiting game. Would it always be like this? “Just so you know, I have a very hot date this afternoon.”

He gasped. “You better be talking about a fictional date.” His tone was playful, but underneath there was a touch of jealousy to it. Maybe it was just as hard on him, being apart.

“One very hot book boyfriend…though not as delectable as my real boyfriend—but a stand-in, until he returns.”

“Well, he better not keep you up half the night, or he’ll have me to answer to,” he faux threatened, and then said more seriously, “Things will slow down, Sarah. I want to be with you so much my soul hurts. But right now, while I’m freelance, I have to take whatever comes my way.”

“I know. I just feel a bit lost sometimes. Like someone’s hit pause, and I’m frozen on the spot.” I bit my lip, trying to work out how to explain it. “It’s not just missing you—I do understand about your job—it’s…everything. The bookshop sales dwindling, the rent jacked up, everyone going on about their business, while I’m still the same old Sarah.”

I’d been at this very crossroad when I’d met Ridge, and he’d swept me off my feet, like the ultimate romance hero. For a while that had been enough. After all, wasn’t love always the answer? Romance aside, life was a little stagnant, and I knew it was because of my fear of change. It wasn’t so

much that I had to step from behind the covers of my books, rather plunge, perhaps. Take life by the scruff of the neck and shake it. But how?

“You’ve had a rough few weeks. That’s all. I’ll be back soon, and I’m sure there’s something I can do to make you forget everything…”

My belly flip-flopped at the thought. He would make me forget everything that was outside that bedroom door, but then he’d leave and it would all tumble back.

What exactly was I searching for? My friends were getting married and having babies. Buying houses and redecorating. Starting businesses. My life had stalled. I was an introvert, happiest hiding in the shadows of my shop, reading romances to laze the day away, between serving the odd customer or two—yet, it wasn’t enough. In small-town Connecticut, there wasn’t a lot to do. And life here—calm, peaceful—was fine, but that’s just it, fine wasn’t enough anymore. I had this fear that life was passing me by because I was too timid to take the reins.

It was too hazy a notion of what I was trying to say, even to me. Instead of lumping Ridge with it, I changed tack. “I hope you know, you’re not leaving the house when you get home. Phones will be switched to silent, computers forgotten, and the only time we’re leaving the comfort of bed is when I need sustenance.” A good romp around the bedroom would suffice until I could pinpoint what it was that I wanted.

“How about I sort out the sustenance?” he said, his voice heavy with desire. “And then we’ll never have to leave.”

“Promises, promises,” I said, my breath hitching. I hoped this flash of longing would never wane, the sweet torture of anticipation.

“I have to go, baby. I’ll call you tonight if it’s not too late once I’m in.”

“Definitely call tonight! Otherwise, I can’t guarantee the book boyfriend won’t steal your girlfriend. He’s pretty hot, I’ll have you know.”

“Why am I jealous of a fictional character?” He laughed, a low, sexy sound. “OK, tonight. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

He hung up, leaving me dazed, and a touch lonely knowing that I wouldn’t see him the next day as planned.

I tried to shake the image of Ridge from my mind. If anyone walked in, they’d see the warm blush of my cheeks, and know exactly what I was thinking. Damn the man for being so attractive, and so effortlessly sexy.

Shortly, the sleepy town of Ashford would wake under the gauzy light of October skies. Signs would be flipped to open, stoops swept, locals would amble down the road. Some would step into the bookshop and out of the cold, and spend their morning with hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot tea, and reading in any one of the cozy nooks around the labyrinth-like shop.

I loved having a place for customers to languish. Comfort was key, and if you had a good book and a hot drink, what else could you possibly need to make your day any brighter? Throw rugs and cushions were littered around seating areas. Coats would be swiftly hung on hooks, a chair found, knitted blankets pulled across knees, and their next hour or two spent, in the most relaxing of ways.

I wandered around the shop, feather duster in hand, tickling the covers, waking them from slumber. I’m sure as soon as my back was turned, the books wiggled and winked at one another, as if they were eager for the day to begin, for fingers of hazy sunlight to filter through and land on them like spotlights, as if saying, here’s the book for you.

Imagine if I had to close up for good, like so many other shops had in recent times? It pained me to think people were missing out on the real-life bookshop experience. Wasn’t it much better when you could step into a dimly lit space, and eke your way around searching for the right novel? You could run a fingertip along the spines, smell that glorious old book scent, flick them open, and unbend a dog-eared page. Read someone else’s notes in the margin, or a highlighted passage, and see why that sentence or metaphor had dazzled the previous owner.

Secondhand books had so much life in them. They’d lived, sometimes in many homes, or maybe just one. They’d been on airplanes, traveled to sunny beaches, or crowded into a backpack and taken high up a mountain where the air thinned.

Some had been held aloft tepid rose-scented baths, and thickened and warped with moisture. Others had childlike scrawls on the acknowledgment page, little fingers looking for a blank space to leave their mark. Then there were the pristine novels, ones that had been read carefully, bookmarks used, almost like their owner barely pried the pages open so loath were they to damage their treasure.

I loved them all.

Excerpted from The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin. Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Raisin. Published by HQN Books.

Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at http://www.rebeccaraisin.com